Today we open up the lunchbox on nutrient density again by looking at the nutrivore approach to eating.
The greatest tool we use at Wild Life is knowledge. Our approach has always been to impart understanding to those we help.
By giving knowledge and understanding to our clients we ultimately give them agency over their own health journey; the ability and power to dictate how this journey occurs for themselves.
We live in a hyper-information world, and while this gives us all of humanity’s knowledge at our fingertips, it can be a confusing arena to enter.
If, like me, you are prone to the horrid affliction of analysis paralysis, the overwhelm of too much information resulting in little to no action, then you have probably been faced with the seemingly infinite amount of advice on food and diet.
And the worst part is it is often conflicting with each other.
Religion, politics, and now nutrition are areas that seem to provoke massive amounts of fury, conflict and upset.
In an age that has become increasingly binary, where you are either with us or against us, this has only gotten worse.
There seems to be very little nuance in todays world, at least as far as I see in the media and on social media.
I would say this is a massive limiter to us as a species. And this is equally as true when it comes to the food we eat.
Whether you are vegetarian, paleo, Mediterranean, blue zone, carnivore, vegan, freegan, pegan, fruitarian, we often wear our dietary and food philosophies as a symbol of identity.
Throughout our species history, the way humans have eaten would be best described as OPPORTUNIVORE.
Massively varying, constantly changing due to location, seasons, and luck. Sometimes there would have been a glut of a single food type, sometimes there would be many, other times there would be little to nothing to eat.
We humans have the super power of adaptability, and this is expressed in the way we were designed to eat.
Modern diet philosophies often end up a bit restrictive and removing whole food groups from the list of food options. This, I feel, is a detriment.
One of the big lessons we try to impart with regards to food is the importance of Vitamin V.
What is Vitamin V?
“Glenn, are you making shit up again?”
Yes, I am. But hear me out.
Vitamin V stands for variety. Traditional hunter gatherer communities eat an impressive variety of food sources both animal and plant based.
In the 60s, Kalahari !Kung Bushman were observed to eat no less than 85 plant species. This is at a time where the !kung had already been restricted in the areas they could hunt and gather, and having been influenced by colonialisation.
Other forest dwelling societies eat over 120 plant species.
And then there is the huge variety of animal based foods.
Compare this to the standard western diet. We eat on average about 30 plant species at most.
If you think you eat more than this just remember, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Romanesco Broccoli, Savoy Cabbage, Kale, Red Cabbage, Kohlrabi, and Collard Green (to name just a few) are all cultivars of the wild Cabbage, Brassica oleracea, so technically just 1 species, not 9.
This is why we pay so much attention to foraging wild foods as part of our food philosophy at Wild Life
And this is why we don’t like one size fits all diets.
What is a diet?
- the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
- a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.
We rarely use the term diet at Wild Life, but when we do we are referring to definition 1.
The diet is the kinds of food and eating habits that a species habitually eats. Basically, the types of food that a creature will eat for it’s entire existence.
The issue comes when we overly focus on definition 2.
Restricting or avoiding food or whole food groups, usually for a short limited period, can be a useful tool to aid fat loss and other medical outcomes. The problem usually comes when we finish our stint of dieting and return to our former way of eating.
Returning to the same eating strategy that we used prior to the ‘diet’ will more often than not return us to the state we were trying to escape from.
To my mind it can often leave some with a bit of a twisted and less than healthy relationship to food.
What is the best diet to follow?
It’s the one you are happy to stick with long term.
This is why I like the Nutrivore approach to eating.
The way of the Nutrivore
Originally coined by Dr Sarah Ballantyne, the nutrivore approach to eating is more of a framework than a rigid or prescribed ‘diet’.
The whole purpose of the nutrivore approach is to eat a diet of nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory whole foods.
Nutrient density is key here.
Rather than solely focusing on macronutrients, fat, protein and carbs, we instead look at obtaining the biggest array of nutrients from real whole foods. Macro tweaking is then used, as needed, as a secondary measure to help us meet our goals.
By focusing on nutrient density, we pay attention to the types of food we eat rather than just the amount or caloric values.
This approach enables us to clearly see the difference between the carbs in a pizza base and those of a serving of sweet potato for example. Or the difference between a can of coke and 2 poached eggs. Both are about the same calories, yet one offers so much more with regards to nutrient density.
Whilst it is absolutely true that you can lose body fat by solely eating donuts and pizza, if this is all we eat it will not be long before our general health is impacted.
The nutrivore approach looks beyond body composition and helps with longevity, disease reduction and performance.
When nutrient density is a primary focus we are able to express much more flexibility to our eating strategies.
A 2018 study, published in JAMA, showed no significant differences between participants eating a healthy high carbohydrate diet and those eating a healthy high fat diet for fat loss.
The key similarities in the two dietary approaches was the increase in nutrient dense whole foods and the reduction of processed and refined foods.
Your macro proportions matter far less when you are a nutrivore.
So what do nutrivores eat?
As a quick list, you could include
- Organ meats
- Fish and shellfish
- Eggs and dairy (if this works for you and you can tolerate it)
- Fruits and vegetables (especially dark green veg and brightly coloured veg)
- Fermented food and drinks (such as this and this)
- Starchy veg
- Herbs and spices
- Bone broth
- Cacao (At Wild Life we consider dark chocolate a health supplement!)
If it’s a natural whole food then it’s probably good to go.
Food that nutrivores avoid or limit
- Highly processed and refined foods – refined flours can elevate blood sugar and cause a number of metabolic dysfunctions.
- Excess sugars – hugely addictive, can impair immune function, cause gut dysbiosis, metabolic syndrome and other illnesses
- Industrial seed oils – Canola, sunflower oil etc – can lead to systemic inflammation, obesity, chronic heart disease and diabetes.
Thankfully, with a little imagination and ingenuity we can find healthier substitutions that fit the nutrivore bill.
The way I view the nutrivore approach to eating is like the buffer rails you get at the bowling ally.
You know the things. Little barriers that rise up at the sides of the alley to stop your ball from falling into the side gullies. You can throw the ball however the hell you like, the guard rails just help optimise the chances of hitting the pins.
Rather than being an overly prescriptive and restrictive set of dogmas, eating like a nutrivore acts as a guide rail that still give you the freedom to eat as you please but makes it far more likely that you will hit your health needs.
Regardless of your preferred food philosophy you can still apply the nutrivore logic and reap the benefits.
There is a hypothesis within the nutritional world known as the Protein Leverage Hypothesis, which posits the notion that an individual will keep on eating, regardless of caloric intake, until it reaches the required amount of protein; that protein is the primary driver for regulating food intake.
The evidence is very compelling and is the one of the reasons that we prioritise protein intake for clients seeking fat loss.
But I don’t think this is the whole picture. I believe that this may also be to do with Nutrient Leverage; that our bodies so crave a full compliment of essential nutrients that it will keep us eating until we gain them.
Sadly this strategy will fail when we are eating in the nutritional desert that is the standard western diet.
This would account for the fact that we, as a culture, find ourselves in a state of being chronically overfed, yet undernourished.
Because of the freedom the nutrivore approach lends us we are able to become the scientist of our own health.
Nutrition is not one size fits all. Everyone has different needs, tastes, and desires.
The enjoyment that comes with eating is in the exploration and experimentation with food.
Rather than restricting certain food groups or ingredients, the nutrivore is given licence to go bonkers. The world of food is our highly unprocessed and nutrient dense oyster.
How you decide to eat may look quite different to how I eat, yet we are both enjoying the benefits of the most nutrient dense foods available to us in our personal food philosophies.
When nutrient density becomes our primary concern we find we have more in common than difference.
Nutrivores don’t let perfect be the enemy of good
When your macronutrients are more dialled in it makes you much more metabolically flexible and better able to cope with less than ideal meals.
In short, if you want that pizza, or that pavlova, have at it. The dent it makes on someone eating a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet will be far less than someone eating the standard western diet.
I like to work in an 80/20 ration. 80% of the time eating well balanced, nutrient dense meals, and 20% eating whatever the hell I like.
Relationship to food
I believe the nutrivore approach to eating positively affects my mindset and relationship to food. Being far less restrictive means it doesn’t demonise certain food groups or macros.
It’s tasty, fulfilling, and makes me feel good. This alone makes making healthy food choices easier. And as variety is a big aspect, it makes cooking and eating far more interesting for me.
But much of our relationship with food is psychological and food strategies alone won’t be enough to iron out our personal food wrinkles.
This is where talking to a health coach can come in handy. A good coach can help you explore your relationship to food and give you the tools and habits necessary to change mindset and outlook on food.
How nutrient dense is your way of eating? Do you think you could be a little more nutrivore?
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