I read a story a while back about a woman who had lost over 150 pounds on her own. She didn’t follow any weight loss system, she simply decided to do one simple thing.
She insisted that every calorie she ate be as jammed full of nutrition as possible.
While her weight loss took an extended period of time, this strategy of eating only nutrient-rich foods worked for her. She did the research, and she stuck to her plan.
Of course, some people (most people!) need more support and education to make and sustain major lifestyle changes, and many want results faster, so that’s why we offer a proven medical weight loss program here at dietMD Hawaii. However, if you’re not in Hawaii, or not in a rush to lose weight, learning more about how to eat only nutrient-dense foods will serve you well.
What is a Nutritarian?
There’s actually a term for people who choose this nutrition-focused way of eating. Coined by doctor Joel Fuhrman, the term “Nutritarian” describes a person who has a preference for foods which are high in micronutrients. Dr Fuhrman describes it this way:
Health = Nutrients/Calories (or H=N/C for short). The more nutrients you can pack into a calorie, the healthier you’ll be.
“You have to get sufficient nutrient ‘bang’ for each caloric ‘buck'”
-Dr. Joel Fuhrman
On the nutrient side of the equation are the micronutrients including vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (such as antioxidants and carotenoids.) On the calorie side of the equation we find the macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate and protein. This forumula is described in more detail in Dr. Fuhrman’s book, “Eat to Live”.
The goal of the nutritarian is to meet their micronutrient needs without consuming excessive quantities of calories. It’s a quality-focused approach to food and eating.
A Big Change From SAD
In the Standard American Diet (SAD), as little as 6% of calories consumed are made up of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. A nutritarian aims to consume 90% of their diet from nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, onions, mushrooms, whole grains, beans and berries, with a particular focus on leafy greens (some of the most nutrient-dense foods) such as kale, spinach, cilantro, parsley and bok choy.
Emphasis is placed on eating these foods unprocessed where possible, as in some cases processing destroys the health-giving micronutrients. Freshness counts too, and many nutritarians seek out local organic produce when its available.
Nutritarians don’t rule out consumption of animal products, but amounts are minimized. Some choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
“The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead. The more you eat green, the more you get lean”
– Dr. Joel Fuhrman
Benefits of a Nutritarian Diet
The benefits? Clinical observations indicate that a diet high in micronutrients decreases food cravings and overeating behaviors. It takes several weeks, but as your body adjusts to the new diet and sugar cravings fade, your relationship with food should become healthier, and you’ll lose weight “naturally” if you are obese or overweight.
The study “Effect of a High Nutrient Density Diet on Long-Term Weight Loss“, published in 2008, reported “sustained and highly effective reductions in weight and cardiac risk factors in a cohort of patients treated in a private family practice with a high nutrient vegetable based diet emphasizing a liberal intake of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts.”
Micronutrient density is not the only factor that determines your health, of course. But eating in a nutritarian style also supports proper vitamin D levels, B12 levels, intake of adequate omega-3, higher fiber, lower sodium consumption, a lower glycemic index and reduced calories, while avoiding toxic excesses.
In short, this is a style of eating that supports good health, your immune system, and reaching and maintaining your optimium weight.
Choosing Some Nutritarian Eating Principles
Dr Fuhrman recommends adding these foods, every day:
- a large salad which includes some raw onion and shredded cruiciferous vegetables
- a half cup of beans or lentils (slowly digestible starch), which can be in a salad, soup, stew or other dish
- a minimum of three fresh fruits, particularly berries, pomegranates, cherries, plums or oranges
- an ounce of raw nuts and/or seeds, particularly high omega-3 choices such as walnuts, hemp, flax, chia seed
- a double-sized serving of steamed greens
- onions and mushrooms added to your dishes
Expect that if you make a drastic change in your diet from a “Standard American Diet” to a highly nutritarian diet very abruptly, you may not feel well for the first week to ten days.
Many people experience a crash in energy, exhaustion, even flu-like symptoms including mild fever as the body purges toxins. Drinking lots of water helps.
However, whether you go all-out or simply make a few small changes initially, in about six to twelve weeks you’ll start to notice significant positive changes in your health if you consciously make the choice to pick foods which are nutrient-dense in relation to their caloric value.
If you’re taking prescription medications for medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes, be sure to work closely with your doctor as you make significant dietary changes. Your prescriptions may have to be reduced or even eliminated if you switch to primarily nutritarian eating.