Maximum Nutritional Density

First thing first: Did I mention I weighed in at 210.4 lbs the other day? Because I did. And that’s 35 pounds gone. Booyah. Okay, back to your regularly scheduled rant.

So this is something I hear a lot: “What about all the nutrients that are in grains that you’re missing out on?” To that I say “Have you ever actually read…at all?” People are so programmed to believe that “healthy whole grains” are the best foundation for a good diet, that they don’t actually ever really look at the labels. Let’s do some comparisons.

Here are the rules. We’re comparing nutritional density per calorie, and we’re using fitday.com as our source. Also, we’re using whatever their definitions are for the foods. You can pretty much bank on the meats being CAFO and the plants being non-organic. So take that into account. Also, we’re only looking at the actual micronutrients for the foods, so vitamins and minerals are all that matter. If butter has more vitamin C in it than oranges (I don’t think this is the case) then it doesn’t much matter, nutrient-wise, whether the calories come from fat or carbs. I’m also going to try to use whole foods, rather than anything processed or prepared (as much as possible). We’re not comparing steak (a natural product) to vitamin-enriched whole wheat tortilla and “chreeze” quesadilla (a lab-grown horror show), because one of them is not even actually food. Make sense? Let’s roll.

Bacon vs. Brown Rice (100 calories)

Bacon (Baked) (18.5 g)/Brown Rice (91 g)

  • Vitamin A – 2.0 mcg/0.0 mcg – Winner: Bacon
  • Vitamin B6 – .065 mg/.13 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Vitamin B12 – .23 mcg/0.0 mcg – Winner: Bacon
  • Vitamin C – 0 mg/0 mg – Tie
  • Vitamin D – 0 mg/0 mg – Tie
  • Vitamin E – .057 mg/.027 mg – Winner: Bacon
  • Calcium – 2.0 mg/9.2 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Cholesterol – 20.4 mg/0.0 mg – Winner: Bacon?
  • Copper – .03 mg/.091 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Iron – .27 mg/.38 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Magnesium – 6.1 mg/38.8 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Manganese – .0041 mg/.82 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Niacin – 2.1 mg/1.4 mg – Winner: Bacon
  • Pant. Acid – .22 mg/.26 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Phosphorous – 98.6 mg/75 mg – Winner: Bacon
  • Potassium – 104.5 mg/38.9 mg – Winner: Bacon
  • Riboflavin – .049 mg/.023 mg – Winner: Bacon
  • Selenium – 11.5 mcg/8.9 mcg – Winner: Bacon
  • Sodium – 427.4 mg/273.8 mg – Winner: Bacon?
  • Thiamin – .075 mg/.087 mg – Winner: Brown Rice
  • Zinc – .65 mg/.57 mg – Winner: Bacon

Bacon: 8 (10?)/ Brown Rice: 7

So, that’s kind of interesting, right? I’m interested. I’d better be, because I just spent far longer doing that than I anticipated. The question marks indicate where people might disagree on the winner. Those aren’t included in the total. Personally, I think cholesterol and salt are plenty fine and are important for a lot of our bodily processes, so I’m inclined to count them as wins for bacon. If you disagree, then the contest ends at 8/7. Anyway, it’s a close thing, and obviously nobody eats just bacon or just brown rice all day, but there’s a lot more nutrition in bacon than most of us realize. We’re conditioned to believe that meat is pretty much fat and protein, but that your vitamins and minerals come from veggies, fruits, and grains. That’s why they’re at the bottom of the food pyramid, right? Speaking of which, let’s compare our veggies to grains and see who packs more punch.

Broccoli vs. Whole Wheat Flour (100 calories)

Broccoli (Raw) (294 g)/Whole Wheat Flour (Raw) (29.5 g)

  • Vitamin A – 91.1 mcg/0.0 mcg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Vitamin B6 – .51 mg/.1 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Vitamin B12 – 0 mcg/0 mcg – Tie
  • Vitamin C – 262.2 mg/0 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Vitamin D – 0 mg/0 mg – Tie
  • Vitamin E – 2.3 mg/.24 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Calcium – 138.2 mg/10 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Cholesterol – 0 mg/0 mg – Tie
  • Copper – .14 mg/.11 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Iron – 2.1 mg/1.1 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Magnesium – 61.7 mg/40.7 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Manganese – .62 mg/1.1 mg – Winner: Whole Wheat Flour
  • Niacin – 1.9 mg/1.9 mg – Tie
  • Pant. Acid – 1.7 mg/.3 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Phosphorous – 194 mg/102.1 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Potassium – 929 mg/119.5 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Riboflavin – .34 mg/.063 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Selenium – 7.4 mcg/20.9 mcg – Winner: Whole Wheat Flour
  • Sodium – 97 mg/1.5 mg – Winner: Broccoli?
  • Thiamin – .21 mg/.13 mg – Winner: Broccoli
  • Zinc – 1.2 mg/.86 mg – Winner: Broccoli

Broccoli: 14 (15?)/Whole Wheat Flour: 2

Okay, that was a thorough drubbing. And in case you think I’m cherry picking my foods, feel free to go look for yourself. Meats and veggies consistently beat out grains overall on nutritional density. Probably not every comparison you can make, but in the majority of cases, you’ll see most meats and veggies beating out most grains and starches. If you look at the amounts of each food, too, you’ll notice that the more refined a grain is, the more calorically dense it is. Meats, because of the fat content, will generally have a higher caloric density than veggies, so veggies provide a lot of the bulk. Since feeling full is about a combination of what you eat and how much you eat, meat and veggies together pack a big whollop for your appetite. The fat and protein from the meat also gives the meal staying power, and has less of a spiking effect on blood sugar, so you aren’t likely to get as hungry between meals.

Just for kicks, let’s do another one, comparing animal protein to vegetable protein sources and see where that gets us.

Whole Egg vs. Tofu

Whole Egg (Raw) (69.9 g)/Tofu (Raw) (69 g)

  • Vitamin A – 97.9 mcg/5.5 mcg – Winner: Egg
  • Vitamin B6 – .1 mg/.063 mg – Winner: Egg
  • Vitamin B12 – 0.9 mcg/0 mcg – Winner: Egg
  • Vitamin C – 0 mg/0.14 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Vitamin D – 0.61 mg/0 mg – Winner: Egg
  • Vitamin E – .68 mg/0 mg – Winner: Egg
  • Calcium – 37 mg/471.3 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Cholesterol – 295.7 mg/0 mg – Winner: Egg?
  • Copper – .071 mg/.26 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Iron – 1.3 mg/1.8 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Magnesium – 8.4 mg/40 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Manganese – .027 mg/.81 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Niacin – .049 mg/.26 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Pant. Acid – 1.0 mg/.092 mg – Winner: Egg
  • Phosphorous – 133.5 mg/131.1 mg – Winner: Egg
  • Potassium – 93.7 mg/163.5 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Riboflavin – .33 mg/.07 mg – Winner: Egg
  • Selenium – 22.2 mcg/12 mcg – Winner: Egg
  • Sodium – 97.9 mg/9.7 mg – Winner: Egg?
  • Thiamin – .048 mg/.11 mg – Winner: Tofu
  • Zinc – .78 mg/1.1 mg – Winner: Tofu

Egg: 9 (11?)/Tofu: 10

Another close one, that depends on how you view cholesterol and sodium.  The cool thing for these two is that they’re almost exactly the same amount of food for 100 calories, so it’s a pretty fair match both by calories and by weight. So this one is a toss up, nutritionally. Whichever you prefer, I guess. I like my eggs, so I’m sticking with that. If tofu is your thing, it’s actually pretty nutritious, so I can’t fault it on that front.

Anything else? Oh yeah, you’ll probably want to cook some of these things.

I compared butter with margarine and they come up pretty similar as far as micronutrients go, but we all know that margarine has trans fats in it (which are universally recognized as being bad) while butter (especially grassfed) has some really great fats in it, like CLA and butyric acid. Margarine also isn’t that much lower in total calories per serving, and I think most of us prefer the taste and texture of real butter enough, that even a slightly smaller amount of it would be more satisfying than the caloric equivalent amount of margarine. So I’m going to take that as a moot point without actually writing all of it down. Butter wins, I’d say.

What do we learn from this? For one, I’ve left out some of the leaner meats, like chicken breasts and strip steak. I’ve intentionally gone with things that I eat regularly on a fat-heavy diet, and things that people might think aren’t all that nutritious (excepting broccoli, but I’ll get to that). Do I eat lean meats? Of course. I also eat bacon and butter and broccoli and eggs. If I were trying to eat a nutritious, low-fat diet, I would probably eat whole wheat flour, tofu and brown rice, too. So I’m hoping that this is a fair-ish comparison. I’m sure it isn’t, but that’s what I’m hoping for. If I had more patience, I’d do a full day’s eating in fitday under a paleo paradigm and under the USDA/AHA/ADA recommended servings and all and see what falls out. I’m pretty sure I know how it would go, but I might do that at some point just for fun.

Also, what about broccoli? The point of that is to show that it doesn’t take that much in the way of dark green veggies to completely blow the nutritional value of grains out of the water. Anyone who says you’re missing out on vitamins, minerals, fiber or anything else because you’re not eating grains can suck your spinach salad. If they want to argue that you’re missing out on the experience of eating grains, that’s a different discussion, and each person has to decide how important health is to them when weighed against enjoying certain foods. I used to love grains and starches, but I really like 35 fewer pounds of ass a whole lot more. It’s an easy choice for me, obviously. For others, maybe not so much. But if you’re interested in trying a grain-free diet, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re missing out on nutrients because of it. They’re uninformed or misinformed, and they’re trying to take you down with them.

Okay, I think that about covers it. If you start poking around, you’ll see that calorie-for-calorie, a diet that focuses on meats and veggies will beat the pants off a diet based on grains and starches in the nutritional bowl game. Plus, it tastes great and keeps you full for longer. So there you go. Winner all around. Thanks for reading!

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