I’ve recently been reading Joel Fuhrman’s Eat For Health: Lose Weight, Keep It Off, Look Younger, Live Longer (2 book set), and found his ANDI score system a revelation. He rates the nutrient density of various common foods — a higher score for foods that deliver the most nutrients with the least amount of calories. He does not discourage fat consumption entirely, just recommends keeping fat intake low and ensuring that the majority of fats consumed are plant-based from nuts, seeds and avocados.
Many of the medical problems faced by Americans today are diseases of diet — we are a nation paradoxically obese and malnourished. This bizarre predicament is the result of over-consumption of foods that lack the nutrients our bodies need to maintain a healthy, balanced system. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes (the red bars in the pic at right, from Jamie Oliver’s TED talk) are clearly the big killers in the US, and they are all diseases that can be prevented through a change in dietary habits. An obsession with calories does you no good if the calories you do consume are devoid of nutrients.
The essential change that Fuhrman recommends is to increase the amount of nutrients consumed while keeping the overall calories lower, and that’s where the ANDI scores come in. Since kale, collards, mustard greens and other dark leafy greens have the most nutrients per calorie delivered, they top out the ANDI scale at 1000. Arugula and radishes score in the 500 range, cabbage a 402, Romaine a 384. Carrots 292, celery124, sweet potato 82, cucumber 49. For fruit, strawberries get a 211, raspberries 146, blueberries 128, cantaloupe 99, apple 75, cherries 68, watermelon 90, avocados 37, grapes 31, bananas 30, dates 19, raisins 16. By comparison, oats score 53, brown rice 40, corn 44, chicken breast and eggs each score a 27. Whole wheat pasta 19, white pasta 18, white rice 12, pizza 18, McDonald’s cheeseburger 16, McD’s fries 10, saltines 11, potato chips 11, pretzels 13 and cola a whopping 0.7. You can find the chart in his Eat For Health books, or see a condensed version online at eatrightamerica.com. On my last few visits to Whole Foods, I noticed that they have started posting ANDI score signs throughout the store.
I find these scores helpful when meal planning to ensure that we’re loading up on the high-nutrient veggies and fruits, and keeping the lower-nutrient grains, corn and potato to a minimum. Fuhrman also redesign the “food pyramid” we all learned about at school, with leafy greens and other foods that score over 100 in the base instead of grains
While we have dropped wheat and dairy from our diets, I noticed that the kids had simply started eating lots of things made from rice and corn instead, still not eating enough fresh fruits and veggies. So last week we started limiting grains or bready foods to one meal a day for a while to break the grain habit. Breakfast usually includes fruit in some form –whole fruit, slices of apples with cinnamon or nut butter, frozen fruit sorbet, banana ice cream, fruit salad, or smoothie. Lunches have been RAT sandwiches (tomato and avocado rolled up in romaine leaves), lemon fennel soup or a big green salad, and dinners have consisted of two salads, with a small portion of grains often mixed with more veggies. Some days they choose to have oatmeal with berries for breakfast, so those days I find myself challenged to serve a dinner that doesn’t include grains, potatoes or corn chips/tortillas.
We also started keeping a food journal, which has been illuminating — we think we eat differently than we actually do. The kids were surprised to see what a large percentage of their overall intake the rice, corn and potatoes were. Keeping the journal has enabled them to see for themselves what they truly consume, rather than taking my word for it. And now we have a record of what we have eaten and liked to use as a reference when meal planning in the future.
One of the vegetables we’ve been exploring lately is bok choy. A member of the brassica family, bok choy provides a similar nutrient profile to other varieties of cabbage: rich in folate, fiber and Vitamin C, it also contains significant amounts of aromatic organic compounds known as indoles, which are linked to lowering the risk of some forms of cancer. Thanks to the deep green leaves at the top of the stalks, bok choy contains more beta-carotene and significantly more calcium than other members of the cabbage family. I’ve always had bok choy cooked in stir fry, but the stalks have a lovely juicy crunch and the leafy greens a mild mustard flavor — both welcome tastes and textures in a salad.
- 1 head bok choy
- 1/2-1 cup mung bean sprouts
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbs sesame oil
- 1 Tbs tamari
- salt to taste
- 2 Tbs sesame seeds
- Chop bok choy in thin slices. Put into a large salad bowl.
- Add mung bean sprouts. I start mine 2-3 days ahead, soaking then sprouting the mung beans in a jar near the sink. When the tail is about as long as the mung bean itself, the sprouts are ready to eat. If you aren’t ready to pop them in a salad yet, rinse them again, drain well and pop them in the fridge for up to a week until you are ready.
- I used to mix the dressing separately to emulsify, but these days I just pour the dressing ingredients on the veggies and toss. I add the black and unhulled sesame seeds to garnish.
I have made this dressing when I don’t have bok choy on hand — it’s great with broccoli, carrots, celery, kale, mustard greens, etc. Sometimes I add raisins to bring on the sweetness, sometimes I get the longer mung bean sprouts from the store since the kids prefer them to the smaller, home sprouted version. Either way, we’re really enjoying our salads around here!
FYI, if you’re wondering what criteria were used by Dr. Fuhrman to develop the ANDI (aggregate nutrient density index) scores, here’s a list of what was analyzed for each item:
Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, plus ORAC score X 2 (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity is a method of measuring the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of foods).