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June 11, 2000
"Less Grains, More Greens"
by William Harris, M.D.

The title is a quote dropped casually by Jennifer Raymond, M.S., R.D. in a conversation we were having on the merits of different food categories in the vegan diet.

http://www.vegan.com/issues/1999/nov99/raymond.htm

Nutritionist IV, my analytical software (1), lists 31 categories of foods but 21 of them consist of over-processed junk, so I went through the remaining 10 categories and added 100 gram portions of more or less unmolested and whenever possible raw foods into a "recipe" from each category. I then instructed Nutritionist IV to equably reduce the portion of each food so that the entire "recipe" contained only 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Calories--about 2200 Cal. for a woman 25-50 years. RDAs change by age and sex but the nutrient/Calories ratios remain about the same, so this analysis should hold up for both sexes and all ages.

Nutritionist IV gives a readout of 76 nutrients and food factors, but since the underlying USDA nutrient data is incomplete for many of them it also produces a display of the 21 most important ones. Hence it was easy to go through each category and make a nutrient graph of the 21. Costs are also given, but since the USDA meddles in agricultural economics through the Commodities Credit Corporation (CCC) the real costs should be taken with a very large grain of salt (2).

"A Few Words on Vegan Nutrition" at:
http://www.vegsource.com/harris/going_vegan.htm

and the Nutrient Analysis at:
http://www.vegsource.com/harris/going_vegan_table1.htm

explain that I recommend sorting and preferencing foods by nutrient/Calorie ratio (nutrient indexing), rather than by nutrient/weight ratio (the nutritional establishment's usual method), and that I utilize the idea of "% of RDA per Calorie" in analyzing the nutritional value of food. The following graphs illustrate this concept but for the sake of numerical clarity on the X axis, "% of RDA per Calorie" has been replaced by "Multiples of the RDA" (contained in 2200 Calories), which gives identical numbers, but divided by 100.

The ten categories are typed out in detail at the end, but let's start with the title quote. First up are the grains, the staple of world food production since the beginning of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago.

They're cheap, they can be stored for long periods, and they're nutritious enough to generate a world population growth that went from 5.32 million people in 10,000 B.C. to 86.5 million in 6000 B.C., a 16-fold increase (3). However, the populations that still depend on grains do not necessarily achieve optimal nutrition because, as this graph shows, 18 readily available grains average less than 100% of the RDA for vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin A, alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), and calcium.

100% of the RDA (1 multiple of the RDA) is at the vertical light blue arrow. Nutrients to the left of the arrow are present at less than the RDA, those to the right at more.

By contrast 96 readily available vegetables are deficient only in vitamin B12. However, vegetables spoil quickly, particularly if you're stuck out in Mesopotamia without a refrigerator 10,000 years ago. That makes them expensive.

We might as well show the other eight categories. Here's bread, usually made from grains, and usually carrying a label that looks more like a chemical formula than food. Not surprisingly it's deficient in the same nutrients as grain.

Alphabetically, 40 dairy products come next and you can see they're not really "nature's perfect food" because they're short on fiber, vitamin C, niacin (not really a vitamin, by the way), iron, thiamin, pyridoxine, a-tocopherol (vitamin E) magnesium, potassium, and folate. They also contain a lot of fat and cholesterol, unless you decide to use only low fat milk and ignore the smorgasbord of cheeses shown at the end.

There were only 6 eggs in the database, but you could probably analyze the ova of any bird species and find the same treasure trove of nutritional disasters here displayed. The apparent, though probably not real, low cost may be the only advantage in eggs.

Except for no fiber and not enough vitamin C, 45 fish did not fare too badly. The high price and high cholesterol content may be due the relative lack of USDA subsidies in fish production and the inclusion of some expensive shellfish and caviar in the "recipe".

59 fruits were on the shorts for vitamin B12, zinc, protein, calcium, and phosphorus. They are expensive, too, because they're the grand champs at spoiling.

27 meats, including some pretty fancy ones, came out short in fiber, calcium, vitamin E, and magnesium. And 1146 mg of dietary cholesterol in one day is probably not a good idea. The relatively low cost is an illusion created by the USDA's refusal to let the meat industry die a natural death on the free market.

Nuts are short in vitamins B12, A, C, B2, calcium, niacin, and B6. Partly this is due to their high fat content (75% of Calories) which raises the nutrient/Calorie sorting denominator (fat carries 9 Calories per gram as opposed to 4 Calories/gm for carbohydrate, and protein).

11 poultry foods turned out deficient in fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, thiamin, vitamin E, and contained twice as much cholesterol as meat.

There's no rocket science here. I am aware that the USDA nutrient database, on which this analysis depends, is off by ~ 10-20%. It's also true that some foods in each category have higher nutrient values than others, and the deficiencies in one food can be made up by other foods. Still it's interesting to note that vegetables are the only category with only one deficiency: vitamin B12. If we were to include in our analysis other nutrients such as alpha-linolenic acid and the growing body of information about the protective virtues of phytochemicals like flavonoids, genistein, luteins, phytosterols, saponins, etc., the vegetables, particularly the leafy greens, would look even better.

The take home message:

"More greens, less grains."

References

1. N-Squared Computing. Nutritionist IV, v2.0. Salem OR, 1992.

2. http://www.usda.gov/news/pubs/fbook98/ch3h.htm

3. Deevey, ES The Human Population. Scientific American. Human Nutrition. W.H Freeman

San Francisco, 1978. ISBN 0-7167-0183-9

The food categories:

(Note: the food categories were defined by N-Squared Computing and the variable numbers of foods in each category reflect only the natural abundance or paucity of those foods.)

  • 19 Grains
  • Barley-pearled-light-uncooked
  • Bulgur-dry-commercial
  • Cornmeal-whole grain-dry
  • Flour-barley
  • Flour-buckwheat-whole groat
  • Flour-carob
  • Flour-rice-white
  • Flour-sesame-lowfat
  • Flour-soybean-lowfat
  • Flour-wheat-whole grain-stirred
  • Macaroni-cooked-firm stage-hot
  • Matzos-matzo meal-manischewitz
  • Noodles-somen-wheat-dry
  • Popcorn-popped-plain
  • Rice-brown-long grain-cooked
  • Rice-white-parboiled-dry
  • Spaghetti-cooked-firm stage-al dente-hot
  • Tortilla-flour
  • Wheat germ-crude

  • 96 Vegetables
  • Alfalfa seeds-sprouted-raw
  • Amaranth-boiled-drained
  • Artichokes-boiled-drained
  • Asparagus-raw-boiled-drained-spears
  • Balsam pear-leafy tips-boiled-drained
  • Bamboo shoots-raw
  • Beans-great northern-dry-cooked-drained
  • Beans-snap-yellow/wax-raw-boiled
  • Beans-navy-sprouted-boiled
  • Beans-snap-green-raw-boiled
  • Beans-black-cooked-boiled
  • Beans-french-cooked-boiled
  • Beans-adzuki-boiled
  • Beans-garbanzo-dry-raw
  • Beans-green-frozen-boiled-french style
  • Beans-lima-raw-boiled-drained
  • Beans-mung-sprouted-boiled
  • Beans-navy pea-dry-cooked-drained
  • Beans-small white-boiled
  • Beet greens-boiled-drained
  • Beets-whole-boiled-drained
  • Broccoli-raw
  • Brussels sprouts-raw-boiled
  • Burdock root-boiled-drained
  • Cabbage-savoy-raw-shredded
  • Cabbage-celery-raw
  • Cabbage-common-raw-sliced
  • Cabbage-red-raw-shredded
  • Cabbage-white mustard-raw
  • Carrot-raw-scraped-whole
  • Cauliflower-raw-boiled-drained
  • Celery-pascal-raw-stalk
  • Chard-swiss-raw
  • Chicory greens-raw-chopped
  • Chives-raw-chopped
  • Collards-raw-boiled-drained
  • Corn-kernels from one ear-boiled-drained
  • Cress-garden-raw
  • Cucumber-raw-whole
  • Dandelion greens-boiled
  • Eggplant-boiled-drained
  • Endive-raw-chopped
  • Garlic-raw-clove
  • Ginger root-raw-sliced
  • Gourd-white flowered-boiled
  • Hummus
  • Jerusalem artichokes-raw
  • Kale-frozen-boiled-drained
  • Kohlrabi-raw
  • Leeks-raw
  • Lentils-sprouted-raw
  • Lentils-whole-cooked
  • Lettuce-iceberg-raw-leaves
  • Lettuce-romaine-raw-shredded
  • Lettuce-butterhead-head
  • Lotus root-raw
  • Miso-fermented soybeans
  • Mushrooms-raw-chopped
  • Mustard greens-boiled-drained
  • Natto-fermented soybeans
  • Nuts-chestnuts-chinese-raw
  • Okra-raw-boiled-drained
  • Onions-mature-raw-chopped
  • Onions-young green
  • Parsley-raw-chopped
  • Parsnips-sliced-boiled-drained
  • Peas-edible podded-raw
  • Peas-blackeye/cowpeas-raw-boiled
  • Peppers-sweet-raw
  • Peppers-hot chili-raw
  • Poi-taro root product
  • Potato-baked-flesh & skin-whole
  • Potato skin-baked
  • Pumpkin-raw-cubed
  • Radishes-raw
  • Rutabagas-boiled-drained
  • Seaweed-spirulina-dried
  • Seaweed-kelp (kombu)-raw
  • Shallots-raw
  • Soybeans-sprouted-steamed
  • Soybeans-green-boiled-drained
  • Spinach-frozen-boiled-chopped
  • Spinach-raw-chopped
  • Squash-zucchini-raw-sliced
  • Squash-butternut-baked
  • Squash-summer-boiled-sliced
  • Sweet potato-baked-peeled
  • Taro leaf
  • Taro root-raw-sliced
  • Tempeh-soybean product
  • Tofu-raw-firm
  • Tomato-red-ripe-raw
  • Turnip greens-raw-boiled
  • Waterchestnuts-chinese-raw
  • Watercress-raw
  • Yam-mountain-hawaii-steamed

  • 18 Breads
  • Bagel-water-3 inch diameter
  • Bread-italian-enriched
  • Bread-french-enriched
  • Bread-pumpernickel
  • Bread-white-soft
  • Bread-whole wheat-firm-enriched
  • Bread-cracked wheat-enriched
  • Bread-rye-american-light
  • Bread-wheat-firm-enriched-toasted
  • Bread-mixed grain-untoasted
  • Bread-pita
  • Bread sticks-vienna type
  • Bread-melba toast-plain
  • Bread-oat bran-no cholesterol-monterey
  • Bread-oatmeal and bran-oatmeal goodness
  • Bread-vienna-enriched
  • Muffin-english-plain-untoasted
  • Roll-whole wheat-homemade

  • 40 Dairy Foods
  • Cheese-colby
  • Cheese-camembert-wedge
  • Cheese-cheddar-cut pieces
  • Cheese-cottage-4% fat-large curd-unpack
  • Cheese-mozzarella-made from whole milk
  • Cheese-parmesan-grated
  • Cheese-provolone
  • Cheese-ricotta-made with whole milk
  • Cheese-romano
  • Cheese-swiss
  • Cheese-gouda
  • Cheese-blue
  • Cheese-cream
  • Cheese-cottage-1% lowfat-unpacked
  • Cheese-tilsit
  • Cheese-roquefort
  • Cheese-brick
  • Cheese-brie
  • Cheese-caraway
  • Cheese-cheshire
  • Cheese-muenster
  • Cheese-edam
  • Cheese-feta
  • Cheese-fontina
  • Cheese-gjetost
  • Cheese-neufchatel
  • Cheese-gruyere
  • Cheese-limburger
  • Cheese-monterey jack
  • Cream-whipping-heavy-unwhipped-fluid
  • Milk-indian buffalo-whole
  • Milk-whole-regular-3.3% fat-fluid
  • Milk-buttermilk-cultured-fluid
  • Milk-goat-whole-fluid
  • Milk-human-whole-mature
  • Milk-sheep-whole-fluid
  • Milk-1% fat-lowfat-fluid
  • Milk-2% fat-fluid-protein fortified
  • Whey-sweet-fluid
  • Yogurt-plain-whole milk-no solids

  • 6 Eggs
  • Egg-raw-white-large-chicken
  • Egg-raw-yolk-large-chicken
  • Egg-hard cooked-no shell-large-chicken
  • Egg-poached-whole-large-chicken
  • Egg-duck-whole-fresh-raw
  • Egg-raw-whole-large-chicken

  • 45 Fish
  • Fish-anchovy-fillet-canned
  • Fish-bass-black-baked
  • Fish-bluefish-baked with butter
  • Fish-abalone-raw
  • Fish-carp-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-catfish-breaded-fried
  • Fish eggs-caviar-sturgeon-granular
  • Fish-clams-raw-meat only
  • Fish-cod-atlantic-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-crab-alaska king-raw
  • Fish-crab-steamed-pieces
  • Fish-crayfish-cooked-moist heat
  • Fish-eel-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-flatfish-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-grouper-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-haddock-broiled
  • Fish-halibut-cooked-broiled
  • Fish-herring-atlantic-raw
  • Fish-lobster-northern-raw
  • Fish-mackerel-atlantic-raw
  • Fish-mullet-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-mussels-blue-raw
  • Fish-ocean perch-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-octopus-raw
  • Fish-oysters-eastern-raw-meat only
  • Fish-pollock-atlantic-raw
  • Fish-red snapper-raw
  • Fish-pike-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-rockfish-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish eggs-carp/cod/pike/shad-roe-raw
  • Fish-salmon-cooked-moist heat
  • Fish-sardines-atlantic-canned in oil
  • Fish-scallops-raw
  • Fish-sea bass-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-shark-raw
  • Fish-shrimp-cooked-moist heat
  • Fish-smelt-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-sole/flounder-baked
  • Fish-squid-raw
  • Fish-sturgeon-steamed
  • Fish-swordfish-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-tilefish-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-trout-rainbow-cooked-dry heat
  • Fish-tuna-yellowfin-raw
  • Fish-whiting-cooked-dry heat

  • 59 Fruits
  • Apples-raw-with skin-2 3/4 inch diameter
  • Apricot-raw-without pit
  • Avocado-raw-california
  • Bananas-raw-peeled
  • Blackberries-raw
  • Blueberries-raw
  • Boysenberries-frozen-unsweetened
  • Breadfruit-raw
  • Carambola-raw
  • Carissa-raw
  • Cherimoya-raw
  • Cherries-sweet-raw
  • Cranberry sauce-canned-sweetened
  • Dates-domestic-natural and dry-whole
  • Elderberries-raw
  • Figs-raw
  • Gooseberries-raw
  • Grapefruit-pink & red-raw
  • Grapes-raw-adherent skin (european) type
  • Grapes-raw-slip skin (american) type
  • Guavas-common-raw
  • Kiwifruit-raw
  • Lemons-raw-without peel
  • Limes-raw
  • Loganberries-frozen
  • Longans-raw
  • Loquats-raw
  • Lychees-raw
  • Mangos-raw
  • Melons-cantaloupe-raw-cubed pieces
  • Melons-casaba-raw
  • Melons-honeydew-raw-cubed pieces
  • Mulberries-raw
  • Nectarines-raw
  • Oranges-raw-sections without membranes
  • Papayas-raw
  • Passion fruit-purple-raw
  • Peaches-raw-whole
  • Pears-raw-bartlett-with skin
  • Persimmons-japanese-raw
  • Pineapple-raw-diced
  • Pitanga-raw
  • Plantains-raw
  • Plums-raw-japanese & hybrid
  • Pomegranates-raw
  • Pricklypears-raw
  • Prunes-dried-uncooked
  • Pummelo-sections-raw
  • Quinces-raw
  • Raisins-seedless
  • Raspberries-raw
  • Roselle-raw
  • Sapodilla-raw
  • Sapotes-raw
  • Soursop-raw-pulp
  • Strawberries-raw-whole
  • Tamarinds-raw
  • Tangerines-raw-peeled
  • Watermelon-raw

  • 27 Meats
  • Bacon-pork-broiled/pan-fried/roasted
  • Beef-heart-cooked-simmered
  • Beef cuts-lean and fat-simmered/roasted
  • Beef-liver-fried in margarine
  • Bologna-cured pork-4 by 1/8 inch slice
  • Brisket-lean-cooked
  • Canadian bacon-pork-grilled
  • Chitterlings-pork-simmered
  • Frankfurter (hot dog)-no bun-beef & pork
  • Frog legs-fried-flour coated
  • Ham-roasted-regular-11% fat-boneless
  • Hamburger patty-broiled-medium-lean beef
  • Hamburger-ground-regular-baked
  • Lamb-leg-roasted-lean only
  • Pork chop-loin-broiled-lean only
  • Pork-kidneys-braised
  • Pork-liver-braised
  • Pork-tenderloin-roasted-lean only
  • Beef-pot roast-chuck-arm cut-cooked
  • Rabbit-stewed-boneless-skinless
  • Roast beef-rib-broiled-lean and fat
  • Pork-spareribs-braised
  • Steak-sirloin-broiled-lean and fat
  • Beef-tenderloin steak-broiled
  • Sweetbreads-calf-braised
  • Veal-rib-separable lean only-braised
  • Venison-roasted

  • 20 Nuts and Seeds
  • Nut-walnut-persian/english
  • Nut-filbert/hazel-dried-chopped
  • Nuts-beechnuts-dried
  • Nuts-brazil-dried-shelled
  • Nuts-almonds-unblanched-shelled-chopped
  • Nuts-butternuts-dried
  • Nuts-cashews-dry roasted
  • Nuts-coconut-raw-shredded
  • Nuts-hickory-dried
  • Nuts-macadamia-dried
  • Nuts-peanuts-spanish-dried
  • Nuts-pecans-dried-halves
  • Nuts-pistachio-dried
  • Nuts-soybean kernels-roasted
  • Nuts-walnut-black-dried-chopped
  • Peanut butter-old fashioned
  • Seeds-pumpkin/squash-dried
  • Seeds-sesame-dried-whole
  • Seeds-sunflower-dried
  • Seeds-breadfruit-roasted

  • 11 Poultry
  • Chicken-heart-simmered
  • Chicken-giblets-simmered
  • Chicken-leg-roasted
  • Chicken-liver-simmered
  • Chicken-capon-roasted
  • Duck-flesh & skin-roasted
  • Goose-liver pate-smoked-canned
  • Goose-flesh & skin-roasted
  • Turkey-light meat-no skin-roasted
  • Turkey-giblets-simmered
  • Turkey-dark meat-no skin-roasted