Hi! I'm your SANE concierge. What can I help you find today?

Calorie Quality Factor 3: Nutrition (Part 2)

Looking at Nutrition per calorie (see previous post) is important because:

  1. It gives us a more accurate view of which foods are nutritious.
  2. It helps us burn body fat instead of slowing down or burning muscle.

Like Satiety and Aggression, a food’s Nutrition depends on water, fiber, and protein. Water and fiber have no calories, and protein calories do not “count” as much as carbohydrate or fat calories (more on this in future posts…the short version is that the body burns a significant amount of calories from protein during digestion). Since a food’s Nutrition is found by dividing the number of nutrients by the number of calories, more water, fiber, and protein reduce the relative number of calories in the food and therefore increase its Nutrition.

Viewing Nutrition in terms of water, fiber, and protein gives us a dramatically different view of which foods are nutritious. Consider cereal, bread, or “healthy” whole grain starches. They are all dry and contain little protein, so they are starting out zero for two. Fiber is their only hope.

The companies selling starchy products say we get a great deal of fiber from their whole-grain products, but is that actually true? Well, the four grams of fiber in 250 calories of whole-grain cereal is 100% more fiber than the two grams of fiber in 250 calories of refined-grain cereal, but that is only comparing grains. You have to ask if grains are a good source of Nutrition relative to more water and protein-packed foods we could be eating. So are whole grains good sources of Nutrition relative to non-starches?

Not even close.

Sure, whole grains are better than processed grains, but that is like saying one broken leg is better than two. It does not make either option good. Look at the fiber per calorie in whole grains compared to more water and protein-packed foods:

Fiber Per Calorie in Whole Grains Compared to SANE Foods

Whole grains do have six times more fiber than doughnuts, but non-starchy vegetables have nearly fifty times more fiber. Whole grain toast is better than a doughnut, but that is not saying much considering the other foods we could be eating. For example, if we eat 250 calories worth of non-starchy vegetables, we will get about forty-six grams of fiber. To get the same amount of fiber from whole grains, we would have to eat a whopping 1,917 calories worth of whole grains.

Calories Needed to Get 46 Grams of Clog-Clearing Fiber

Starch is an excellent example of how careful you have to be when trying to judge Nutrition—comparing nutrients per calorie. We could be eating all sorts of whole-grain starches thinking we are at the top of the Nutrition mountain, while we are actually sitting at the bottom getting buried with low-quality calories. A little Nutrition plus a lot of unSatisfying and Aggressive calories is not a happy combination.

Fortunately for us, we do not need to do all sorts of math with Nutrition labels to maximize the Nutrition of our diets. Researchers at Colorado State University did the math for us. They analyzed the Nutrition quality of the most common foods and found that if we maximize the Satiety and minimize the Aggression of our diet—by eating more water-, fiber-, and protein-packed foods—we will get the most Nutrition per calorie automatically.

Nutrition quality also affects the need to burn body fat instead of the need to slow down and burn muscle. When we eat more water-, fiber-, and protein-packed food, we get more Nutrition while avoiding overeating—or overwhelming the body with glucose. Combine more nutrients with less glucose, and we burn body fat without the negative side effects of eating less. After all, our fat metabolism system has more Nutrition than ever before. A surplus of Nutrition is the opposite of starvation.

  1. Drewnowski A. Concept of a nutritious food: Toward a nutrient density score. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Oct;82(4):721-32. PubMed PMID: 16210699.
  2. Rolls BJ, Bell EA, Castellanos VH, Chow M, Pelkman CL, Thorwart ML. Energy density but not fat content of foods affected energy intake in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 May;69(5):863-71. PubMed PMID: 10232624.
  3. Bell EA, Rolls BJ. Energy density of foods affects energy intake across multiple levels of fat content in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jun;73(6):1010-8. PubMed PMID: 11382653.
  4. Drewnowski A. The role of energy density. Lipids. 2003 Feb;38(2):109-15. Review. PubMed PMID: 12733741.
  5. Layman DK. Dietary Guidelines should reflect new understandings about adult protein needs. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009 Mar 13;6:12. PubMed PMID: 19284668; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2666737.