Sarah Ballantyne, PhD
Science Communicator & Nutrient Nerd ⬇️ Patreon, Newsletter, Resources, Merch ⬇️
What Is Nutrivore?
Nerd Out on Nutrients
Fruit & Veggie Benefits
Eat the Rainbow
Health at Any Size
A 2017 meta-analysis showed that consuming 800 grams (equivalent to 1.75 pounds, or 28 ounces) of vegetables and fruits daily reduces all-cause mortality by 31 percent compared to eating less than 40 grams daily. The authors calculated that 2.24 million deaths from cardiovascular disease, 660,000 deaths from cancer, and 7.8 million deaths from all causes could be avoided globally each year if everyone consumed 800 grams of veggies and fruits every day. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw319
Eating vegetables and fruit in abundance lowers risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and bone fragility fractures (including hip fracture), cognitive impairment and dementia (including Alzheimer's disease), neurodegenerative diseases, asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, depression, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory polyarthritis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, acne, seborrheic dermatitis, and lowers markers of inflammation. And every little bit counts!
The most nutrient-dense sugar option is molasses, which has a Nutrivore Score of 367!!!! I mean, that’s HUGE! Remember a Nutrivore Score between 150 and 400 is medium nutrient density, and over 400 is high nutrient density, so the fact that molasses is in the upper 300s is just crazy impressive to me. (For comparison, maple syrup’s Nutrivore Score is 103, honey’s is 20, and granulated sugar is 1.) In fact, blackstrap molasses is so nutrient dense that it contains 1.5 times more calcium per calorie than cheese and 5 times more iron per calorie than steak! Plus, it’s rich in copper, selenium, manganese, magnesium, potassium and vitamins B2, B3 and B6. Just one tablespoon contains 20% of the DV of calcium, iron, copper, and manganese, for only 42 calories. Truly, blackstrap molasses is the sugar you can love!
Of course, honey is beneficial in other ways, and worthy of its own video!
doi: 10.3390/nu13103305 A 2021 study entitled “Dietary Saturated Fats and Health: Are the U.S. Guidelines Evidence-Based” reviewed the studies that went into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans including a cap of 10% calories from saturated fats. They show that 88% of the studies did not support a cap, and instead show a neutral effect on cardiovascular disease risk or a slight decrease in risk.
doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000791 A 2023 review entitled “A short history of saturated fat: the making and unmaking of a scientific consensus” reviews some interesting history on how research showing saturated fat didn’t increase cardiovascular disease risk either went ignored or unpublished. By the late 1960s, a bias in favor of the diet-heart hypothesis was strong enough that researchers with contrary results found themselves unable or unwilling to publish their results, so the data sat unpublished for 16 to 40 years.
Large, randomized, controlled clinical trials (RCTs) were undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s, in which saturated fats were replaced by polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils. Altogether, these ‘core’ trials tested the diet-heart hypothesis on about 67 000 people  and were especially important, because they assessed long-term clinical outcomes, that is, ‘hard endpoints,’ such as heart attacks and death. These trials showed that, although diet could successfully lower blood cholesterol, this reduction did not appear to translate into long-term cardiovascular gains.
The idea that saturated fats cause heart disease, called the diet-heart hypothesis, was introduced in the 1950s, based on weak, associational evidence. Subsequent clinical trials attempting to substantiate this hypothesis could never establish a causal link. However, these clinical-trial data were largely ignored for decades, until journalists brought them to light about a decade ago. Subsequent reexaminations of this evidence by nutrition experts have now been published in >20 review papers, which have largely concluded that saturated fats have no effect on cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular mortality or total mortality.
doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.05.077 A 2020 state-of-the-art review concludes “Although SFAs increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, in most individuals, this is not due to increasing levels of small, dense LDL particles, but rather larger LDL particles, which are much less strongly related to CVD risk…. Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, and dark chocolate are SFA-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of CVD.”
doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725 A large 2010 meta-analysis that concluded that there was no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.
doi: 10.1136/bmj.h3978 A 2015 meta-analysis and systematic review showed that aaturated fat intake was not associated with all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, total coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, or type 2 diabetes. But, they also showed that there was no convincing lack of association between saturated fat and coronary heart disease mortality.
doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa134 A 2020 debate consensus statement that concluded that the overall dietary patterns in which saturated fats are consumed are of greater significance for cardiometabolic and general health than saturated fat intake alone.
Red vegetables, like tomatoes, radicchio and radishes, are also rich in lycopene and anthocyanins (or betalains, in the case of beets – fun fact, anthocyanins and betalains, both deep red pigmented phytonutrients, are never found in the same food!). Anthocyanins can also be found in vegetables with blue and purple colors, as can anthocyanidins, including purple varieties of cauliflower, kale, carrots and purple sweet potatoes.
Orange and yellow vegetables are also rich in beta-cryptoxanthin. Yellow vegetables are additionally rich in xanthophylls. Green veggies provide chlorophyll, glucosinolates, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
And don’t think that white veggies, like mushrooms, turnips and white onions, are devoid of these beneficial phytonutrients; they are rich sources of anthoxanthins and organosulfur compounds.
These phytonutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to many of them also having anticancer, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective and neuroprotective properties! In fact, these amazing pigment phytonutrients are largely responsible for the health benefits of a diet abounding in veggies and fruits. In fact, for every serving of fresh, whole vegetables or fruit we eat daily, risk of all-cause mortality (a measurement of overall health and longevity) reduces by 5% to 8%. Additionally, for every 100 grams of root vegetables we consume daily, all-cause mortality risk decreases by 24%!
Though the majority of us are most familiar with the tuber of this plant, the entire plant is edible, including stems, shoots, and leaves (which are highly nutritious)!
Domesticated versions of this vegetable existed at least 5,000 years ago in Central America.This food is ranked in the top ten most important food crops in the world (because of its versatility and its ability to store without spoiling for long periods after harvest).
This vegetable protects against cancer, diabetes, inflammation, obesity, oxidative stress, and ulcers, all while being cardioprotective, liver protective, and neuroprotective, plus more! Wow!
Cooking substantially increases the sweetness of this vegetable due to increases in sugar content (starch conversion to maltose).
One serving of this vegetable provides over 100% DV vitamin A. In fact, a large-scale study in Uganda promoted consumption of this food in order to increase vitamin A intake in women and children to combat vitamin A deficienc.. At follow-up it was found that consumption of this food increased vitamin A intakes by greater than 100% of the age specific requirement. Success! PMID: 22875553 DOI: 10.3945/jn.111.151829
Despite their name, this veggie is not actually a potato, nor is it a yam, even though people use this name interchangeably!
Oxalates are often blamed for kidney stones (and other health problems for which there is no established connection in the scientific literature) with rumors online that eating too much spinach can cause calcium oxalate kidney stones in as little as two weeks. However, studies show inconsistent effects of dietary oxalates on urinary oxalates—most of the oxalates in our urine are ones our bodies produce. A 2008 study concluded that “The impact of dietary oxalate on urinary oxalate appears to be small. For many stone formers, restricting dietary oxalate may be a relatively ineffective intervention to reduce urinary oxalate excretion.”doi: 10.2215/CJN.01410308
Importantly, studies where they give people kale, up to 6 cups daily!, or a kale extract or juice, the study participants don’t develop kidney stones. Doi: 10.1080/23311932.2020.1811048
BTW, this is true for spinach too. doi: 10.1007/s003940200014
If you are prone to kidney stones, talk to your doctor for personalized recommendations, and know that the best thing you can do is hydrate!
Dehydration is the biggest cause of high urinary oxalate and kidney stone development. Increasing fluid intake (hydrating ourselves better!) reduces the risk of kidney stones by increasing urine volume and diluting calcium and oxalate levels, in turn helping prevent stones from forming. In fact, ingesting enough fluids (whether through drinking beverages or eating high-water-volume foods like vegetables and fruit) to keep urine flow greater than 1 ml/kg/h nearly eliminates the risk of oxalate oversaturation in the urine, and can dramatically reduce kidney stone formation!
Other diet factors that increase risk of kidney stones include high meat/animal protein intake, high salt intake, low calcium diets, low intake of fruits and vegetables. DOI: 10.3390/nu12030779
The nutrients used in the Nutrivore Score calculation are: protein, fiber, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D (D2+D3), vitamin K, choline, monounsaturated fat, linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA+DHA), carotenoids, phytosterols, and polyphenols.
The main dataset for the calculation is the USDA Food Central Database. Unfortunately, it’s surprising how much nutrition information is missing from this database. So, my team and I have filled as many gaps as possible from scientific papers and other databases like Phenol Explorer and other national databases such as Fineli, the nutrition database maintained by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. Where the level of several nutrients in a food remain unknown, the Nutrivore Score is marked with a footnote to denote that the score is likely underestimated for that food and should be thought of as a minimum.
The Nutrivore Score calculation also adds the highest value of available data for one bonus nutrient, relative to a threshold set using epidemiological studies for that nutrient, similar to a %DV. The bonus nutrient can be any of: glucosinolates (the precursor for isothiocyanates and indoles), thiosulfinates, coenzyme Q10 (coQ10), conjugated linolenic acid (CLA), betaine, betalains, myo-inositol, ergothioneine, taurine and medium-chain triglycerides. The reason why only one bonus nutrient is included in the Nutrivore Score is because these are all nutrients for which there is limited data—too much incomplete data would mean less commonly-studied foods are unnecessarily penalized.
Fish is a great source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12 and E, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, potassium and selenium, with oily cold-water fish also providing substantial amounts of vitamin A and vitamin D. Fish with bones remaining, such as canned salmon and sardines, are the best dietary sources of calcium in the food supply. And marine fish are an excellent dietary source of iodine.
Shellfish are extremely rich sources of vitamin B12, zinc, copper and selenium while also providing impressive amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, copper, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, iodine and selenium. Shellfish also contain smaller but still notable amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B9, while also providing dozens of trace minerals.
Fish and shellfish are also our dominant dietary sources of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which block multiple inflammation pathways in our cells. Deficiencies in these anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats have been linked to dyslexia, violence, depression, anxiety, memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease, weight gain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, eczema, allergies, asthma, inflammatory diseases, arthritis, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and many others—so it’s easy to see why getting enough of them is important.
Vitamin A toxicity is rarely seen in the context of whole foods.
Acute vitamin A toxicity in children may result from taking large doses (>300,000 IU or >100,000 mcg RAE), usually accidentally. In adults, acute toxicity has occurred when arctic explorers ingested polar bear or seal livers, which contain several million units of vitamin A. Other animals whose liver should not be eaten due to possible vitamin A toxicity are walrus, moose, and many species of fish such as red snapper, grouper, monkfish, cod and tuna.
Chronic vitamin A toxicity in older children and adults usually develops after doses of >100,000 IU (> 30,000 mcg RAE)/day have been taken for months.
A 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving of raw beef liver contains 4968.0 μg RAE of vitamin A. So, if you consumed double this amount at every meal, three meals per day, every day for months, you could potentially hit chronic vitamin A toxicity.
The caveat here is that if you’re taking vitamin A supplements, in which case, that dose needs to be taken into account.
A 3.5-ounce serving delivers 60% DV or more of 11 essential nutrients, including 2471% DV vitamin B12, 1084% DV copper, 552% DV vitamin A, 333% DV biotin, 212% DV vitamin B2, 143% DV vitamin B5, 82% DV vitamin B3, 73% DV folate, 72% DV selenium, 64% DV vitamin B6, and 61% DV choline, plus 20.4 grams of protein and all for only 135 calories.