Should You Consider Nutrient Density in Choosing Foods?

What do you think about ANDI scoring of foods (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index)? Is this something consumers should be considering when choosing fruits and vegetables?  I’ve seen the rankings and frankly, I’m confused. Most of the vegetables and fruits I like are rated pretty low.

– June 11, 2012

ANDI scoring is a method of rating foods based on their nutrient density – that is, how “rich” an individual food item is in various vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients per calorie consumed. This system ranks foods from 1,000 – the highest score possible (which goes to kale and collard greens) – down to 0.6 for cola drinks. ANDI was devised by Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of the book Eat to Live. The fact that kale and collard greens rank highest mean that they deliver more nutrients per calorie than any other rated foods.

Not surprisingly, the highest ranking foods on the ANDI are fruits and vegetables, but glancing at the list, you may be surprised at the relatively low ranking of some.  Blueberries, for example, a fruit that we know to be packed with nutritional power thanks to the anthocyanin pigments they contain, rank pretty low, a mere 130. You might conclude that these berries aren’t worth eating, which would be a big mistake. Olive oil, the healthiest fat, rates only 9 on the ANDI. True, it is high in calories, but we all need good fat in our diets, and olive oil is the healthiest choice.

Dr.  Fuhrman explains on his website that nutrient density scoring is not the only factor that determines health benefits and acknowledges that if we ate only foods with a high nutrient density score, our diets would be too low in fat. For that reason, he says, we have to pick some foods with lower nutrient density scores. He also notes that if thin individuals or those who are very active ate only foods with the highest nutrient density, they would become so full from fiber that it’s likely they would be unable to meet their caloric needs.

Most of us already know that carrots (ANDI score 240) are better for you than potato chips (ANDI score 11), so if you operate on the simple premise that your diet should emphasize fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you probably don’t need a density index to tell you where to get the most nutritional power for good health. If you’re not sure you’re making the best choices and want more nutritional bang for your buck, the ANDI rankings can help point you in the right direction. For more guidance on how to choose foods to promote good health, see my anti-inflammatory diet pyramid.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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