Julie Morris, writer and healthy food chef, has developed recipes for vegan athlete Brendan Brazier and released her own cookbook, Superfood Cuisine: Cooking With Nature's Most Amazing Foods ($30). With 10 years of experience in the natural food industry and 12 years as a vegan, Julie has accumulated a lot of information on nutrient-rich foods and how to deliciously prepare them. Here are key concepts that Julie uses to help measure the nutritional content of foods, which she says everyone should know.
- Nutrient density: Nutrient density refers to the ratio of the "amount of nutrients per calorie," and Julie believes this is the "key philosophy behind understanding what superfoods are. Using this definition, superfoods give the most nutrients possible for the least amount of calories. Nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals are all included in this calculation. Put simply, nutrient density is the opposite of an empty calorie, and the fresher and more whole a food is, the more nutrient dense.
See more key nutrient terms after the break!
- Aggregate Nutrient Density Index system (ANDI): Julie explains, "The term 'nutrient density' was first started by the USDA, and initially, it only covered vitamins and minerals [within a food]." Dr. Joel Fuhrman, an MD focused on disease prevention through nutrition, created a more complex nutrient density system to also include levels of micronutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals when measuring a food's nutrient content. Fuhrman's ANDI system rates foods from highest (most nutritious) to lowest (least nutritious) nutrient density. For example, kale has an ANDI score of 1000 and soda has a score of one.
- pH balance: pH balance is the measure of "acid/alkaline balance [in your body] using the pH scale of 1-14." Julie recommends limiting acidic foods (pH 0-7), because she believes an unbalanced pH, which is high in acid, is the "breeding ground for disease, aging, and free radicals in our system." Julie adds, "Our bodies are constantly trying to maintain pH balance, and it's all through the foods we eat." Foods high on the acidic spectrum include "refined foods and animal products." To help maintain an ideal pH balance of 7.35-7.45, eat a diet rich in alkaline foods (pH 7-14) "like greens, some fruits, and some whole grains, which will promote health and longevity." Julie adds that having a diet rich in superfoods is key in maintaining a healthy pH balance.
- ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) Value: This unit "measures the amount of antioxidants in a food and is a way to measure the antioxidant protection" of what you are eating. Put away the packaged goods because foods with a high ORAC value "primarily come from natural, whole foods." Julie recommends eating antioxidant-rich foods like "acai, some berries, and raw chocolate, because they prevent the production of free radicals in our body that lead to disease and aging."