Nutrient Density – Part Two
If you haven’t read part one, please do. This article will be more beneficial if you do.
Water Content Doesn’t Count
One of the most common sense things I have ever learned about food, especially when evaluating nutrient density of a food, is to subtract the water content first. For example, broccoli is 90-percent water, or 10-percent nutrient. Water contains no calories and no specific nutrients, although I am confident that the water contained in an organic bunch of broccoli is better for you than the tap water in most large cities.
Water Content in General
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The best part about knowing the water content of foods is that it makes planning meals by eye much easier. Plants (veggies, roots and fruits) are mostly more than eighty percent water and should make up most of every meal by volume. Cooked animal proteins that are just over 50-percent water should only comprise a moderate amount of a meal, perhaps a quarter by volume or less. Fats and oils have no water content and more than twice the amount of calories as proteins and carbohydrates, so they should be the smallest portion of a meal (ideally from 1 Tbsp to 2 Tbsp of oil or butter per person in moderation).
Cooked grains and beans are similar to roots in terms of water content, but they fall into the category of high-starch foods so they are not considered very nutrient dense. As I have mentioned, they should be cooked with some oil or fat to make them more digestible and ensure that the glucose enters your bloodstream slowly. I always encourage people to think of starches as a small side dish or as a vehicle for more nutrient dense foods. The best time of day to eat starches is for breakfast in small amounts with fats, veggies or berries. Nuts and seeds are very low in water content and very high in proteins and fats. They are considered nutrient-dense but they are also considered to be anti-nutrient intense. Think of how many people have allergies to nuts and seeds. I will come back to this shortly.
Fiber is Not a Nutrient – But it is Essential to Health
The next step is to remove the fiber content, as fiber is indigestible. 100 grams of broccoli contains 2.5 grams of fiber, which is indigestible. So far, 100 grams of broccoli only has 7.5 grams of food. Looking a little closer broccoli contains approximately 4 grams usable carbohydrates (a fuel) and about 2.8 grams of protein, about 0.3 grams of fats and about 0.4 grams of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. If you had 100 grams of broccoli you would have an almost an equal amount of nutrients 3.5 grams to carbohydrates 4 grams.
Let’s look at Kale. It is over 90% percent water and contains 2 grams of fiber. So far, 100 grams of Kale only has 8 grams of food. Kale contains approximately 3.6 grams usable carbohydrates (a fuel), about 1.9 grams of protein and .6 grams of fat, leaving almost 2 grams of vitamins, minerals and other trace nutrients. As strange as it sounds, Kale one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet because it has 2 grams of trace nutrients per 100 grams and more calories form proteins and fats than from carbohydrates.
Fiber content of Common foods
Measurements are in grams per 100 grams
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Fiber – An Essential Substance
Dietary fiber is the part of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes that you cannot digest as an energy source. Fiber is not considered essential in the way that vitamins, minerals, certain amino acids and fatty acids are. Fiber is essential, however, as it assists the passage of food and wastes through your digestive tract and because it helps to feed certain beneficial bacterial organisms in your intestines. The role that fiber plays is very useful for you, as the bacteria eat the fiber and produce short-chain fatty acids which are essential to your immune system. Although fiber is not considered to be an essential nutrient, it is definitely an essential substance.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water and is very soft and beneficial to the digestive tract. By absorbing water, this fiber allows our fecal matter to have a thicker consistency and in turn stabilizes and regulates peristalsis (intestinal contractions), which can help with both diarrhea and constipation. Soluble fiber is effective in lowering our level of bad cholesterol by absorbing it and taking out of our bodies before it can be absorbed. Soluble fiber has also been shown to slow the production of free-radicals and may help prevent colon cancer. It is extremely beneficial for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, and can help slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Foods that are high in soluble fiberinclude: oatmeal, pasta, rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, yams, potatoes, barley, nuts, lentils and other legumes.
Insoluble Fiber does not soak up water, so it lacks some of the benefits of soluble fiber. As it passes through the intestinal tract, insoluble fiber increases the frequency and looseness of the stools, which can be a problem for anyone who is prone to having watery, loose and frequent bowel movements. The fluid content of your digestive tract is where most of the nutrients are, just waiting to be absorbed. If you have suffered from chronic diarrhea, you may be suffering from mild malnutrition and you may want to limit your consumption of insoluble fiber containing foods.
Insoluble fiber is very important to your health, so you do not want to give it up entirely. This is where it is necessary to do a little experimenting at home in order to find out what proportions of soluble and insoluble fiber your body likes the most.
Foods that are high in insoluble fiber include: raw fruits, raw vegetables such as celery, peppers and tomatoes; raw greens like kale, collards and chard; raw sprouts, seeds (including those from fresh fruits or vegetables) and cooked fruits and vegetables with tough skins or hulls. When you prepare foods that are high in insoluble fiber, make sure that you have at least twice the amount of foods containing soluble fiber. Another way to moderate the irritating properties of insoluble fiber is to cook these foods until you can mash them with a fork. If you like salads, have a small serving of salad at the end of a meal containing sufficient soluble fiber foods.