The diet wars are filled with dogma. People defend their specific nutrition regimen with religious fervor. I get it. We all want to believe we are doing the right thing and honestly, nutrition research is a train wreck. I prefer to think about it in terms of nutrient density and what foods are going to give my body everything that it needs to function at a cellular level.
Let start with some definitions. Macronutrients are the main constituents of the diet: protein, carbs, and fat. Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that every cell in our body needs to function at a high level. Nutrient density is essentially the concentration of micronutrients in a given food amount.
It is interesting when you look at what the different groups identify as nutrient dense foods. Traditional/conventional groups will recommend foods that are high in nutrients compared to the calories they provide. This means looking for foods with the lowest fat content like vegetables, grains, legumes, lean meat, and low-fat dairy. However, this doesn’t take into account bioavailability and it excludes foods that are high in fat, particularly saturated fat. This is the pattern that we have followed for the last 50 years and where has it got us? Fat and chronically ill.
Now, when more ancesteral health minded groups analyze foods and don’t demonize them for their fat content, dramatically different results are discovered. All the sudden the foods that we have prized for millions of years, more specifically, organs, red meat, and full fat dairy, rise up and show how how amazing they are. I have found that the more these foods are included in the diet, the healthier you become. Labs typically agree with this. I have patients come to me all the time taking handfuls of synthetic supplements and are following “my plate” advice perfectly, but have abnormal nutrition, inflammation, and cardio-metabolic markers. Once we start giving the body what it needs and removing what it doesn’t, their conditions and markers start to normalize.
Essential nutrients aren’t just important for us to eat, but are essential for us to survive and thrive. We can’t make them and thus must get them from our food. If these nutrients are bound up to anti-nutrients in plant foods then we can’t absorb or utilize them.
To corroborate what I have seen over the years, a recent study came out that looked at different foods and their micronutrients to assess their nutrient density. This study was unique in that it not only looked at the nutrients, but also took into account how bioavailable they are to the human body. This study looked at many essential nutrients (zinc, iron, folate, vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin B12) and how much of a given food we would need to get 1/3 of the recommended intake. Guess what food came out the most nutritious? Liver… and it wasn’t close. You need 11 calories of liver to get these nutrients. Compare this with dark leafy greens at 72 calories and beta-carotene rich fruits/vegetables at 297. This means that liver is almost seven-fold more nutritious that the leafy greens we have been told are all the rage. Further, 17 of the top 20 foods were all animal foods and included many organs, fish, beef, eggs, and milk. These are the foods that should be the base of the food pyramid.
I often tell my patients that if you give your body what it needs and remove what it doesn’t, the body is capable of amazing things and can heal from almost anything. The “giving it what it needs” part refers to providing plentiful meat/fish, organs, eggs, and raw dairy. This will give you all the amino acids, minerals, and vitamins that your body needs to thrive. Do this and you have won half the battle. Combine this with removing what is bothering your system and magical things can happen.