The Gold Standard: High microNutrients in Whole Foods

by Elisa Rodriguez, RD, LDN

OrganicNutrition has a profound potential to create, prevent, and even reverse disease. The amount and type of nutrients consumed determines the body’s ability to function.

Macronutrients are larger compounds that consist of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Most Americans consume excessive macronutrients on a daily basis. As a result, 3 out of 4 Americans are overweight or obese.

Micronutrients are much smaller compounds, required in smaller quantities, existing as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. It is crucial to receive the proper amount of each micronutrient for optimal health. Simply put, the higher the micronutrient content of foods per calorie consumed, the better the health outcomes.

Animal products such as meat, milk, and cheese contain much higher amounts of macronutrients per ounce and fewer micronutrients. Plant products such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans are comprised of a significantly higher micronutrient per calorie ratio and less total macronutrients (or calories). Plant products are the only foods that provide valuable phytochemicals, or disease-fighting plant compounds, in the diet.

Evidently, our country focuses on the proper ratio of macronutrient intake, while neglecting to consider the lack of micronutrients in the Standard American Diet (SAD). As a result, our species is growing heavier, with an overwhelming presence of diseases of affluence (heart disease, autoimmune illnesses, cancer, diabetes, etc...)  Meanwhile our overweight bodies are undernourished, unable to combat disease, and still craving that which made us sick: high calorie, low-nutrient food.

A whole food plant-based diet is the gold standard of nutrition:

  • Low in saturated fat and cholesterol (animal products)
  • Moderate in whole grains, nuts, and seeds (plant foods)
  • High in vegetables, fruits, and beans (plant foods)

Incorporating a whole food plant-based eating style by choosing food based on its nutrient content, reaps countless health rewards such as:

  • Increased energy and productivity levels
  • Increased toxin removal
  • Significant, sustainable, long-term weight loss
  • Achieving and maintaining an ideal body weight
  • Reduced cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride serum levels
  • Decreased cardiac risk
  • Significantly reduced blood pressure
  • Prevention of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes
  • Reversal of diseases such as heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and Type 2 diabetes
  • Delaying aging while maximizing longevity
  • Increasing food consumption while reducing total calories consumed
  • Eliminating food cravings and overeating
  • Obtaining an overall sense of wellness

These are some of the principles that I teach and expand upon with my clients to provide them with the knowledge to reach optimal health by practicing nutrient rich eating.  Check out my online nutrition services and if they don't meet your needs, please let me know why.

PS, If you liked this article and want to hear more from me, please do hop on the mailing list...

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Warden February 12, 2011 at 12:14 AM

The news is out. This is what the American Heart Association is now saying, except still ok a little poultry, but said get most of your protein from other sources: nuts, seeds, legumes. No kidding, I just got a letter from the Association yesterday. I was dumbfounded. The message of nutrient density is finally getting through I think.


Elisa Rodriguez, RD, LDN February 12, 2011 at 9:39 AM

That’s wonderful news! I hadn’t heard the AHA was pushing nuts, seeds, and legumes so strongly. I know they’ve been advocating lean white meat, such as poultry, for years now while encouraging folks to avoid red meat. Plant-based eating is definitely trending up which is great for all of us! Woohoo!! Thanks for visiting Sharon, come again!


scott May 1, 2011 at 10:23 AM

The benefits of plant based foods are wonderful and this website is certainly informative as to why. In advocating for such a diet, though, how would you address the below?

-Carnitine, an essential amino acid that is crucial for energy and whose deficiency has been identified in austic persons, is only found in meat. Are sufficient levels of carnitine consumed from a “little poultry?”

-Are you familiar with any studies regarding Vegans and cancer? At least one study found that Vegans are not immune from developing cancer despite their healthy diet. Do you agree with the underlying conclusion that an all plant diet does not provide complete protection against cancer or would you be interested in knowing whether such study’s are flawed in some manner?


Elisa Rodriguez, RD, LDN May 3, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Hi Scott,

Great questions! Here’s my brief, as-brief-can-be, answer…

In healthy people, carnitine homeostasis (balance) is maintained through endogenous biosynthesis of L-carnitine, absorption of carnitine from dietary sources, and elimination and reabsorption of carnitine by the kidneys. Therefore, our bodies can make L-carnitine itself, it can be obtained from food and/or it can be reabsorbed and distributed by our kidneys. Healthy individuals, including strict vegetarians, generally synthesize enough L-carnitine to prevent deficiency. More information

Autistic persons who are unable to synthesize carnitine, can use a carnitine supplement to meet their nutritional needs rather than consuming substantial amounts of meat that my be laced with hormones, antibiotics, steroids, saturated fat and cholesterol. For instance, 4 oz. of beef steak contains 56 to 162 mg of carnitine; 1 cup of milk has 8 mg; and 4 oz. of chicken breast offers 3 to 5 mg – which isn’t much. For comparison sake, supplementing about 3 grams of L-Carnitine per day is generally recognized as safe – that’s grams, not milligrams. There is no recommended daily allowance, or RDA, for L-Carnitine, so it’s best to consult your doctor or a dietitian before supplementing.

I don’t base my recommendations off a “vegan” diet, nor do I base them off any one study. There are plenty of vegans who eat a junk food diet without the animal products but loaded with salt, oil, processed foods and refined grains. So I do not support the concept of a vegan diet preventing cancer or any other disease for that matter. I suggest that a high nutrient density (HND), anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet that is vegetable based (meaning the vegetables make up the majority of food consumption) has significant capabilities to not only manage and prevent disease, but in cases such as heart disease, diabetes and even some autoimmune illnesses and cancers – a HND diet has the potential to reverse the disease process! Eating a “vegan” diet alone does not make one immune from illness.

For instance, numerous studies support the use of cruciferous vegetables (kale, collards, watercress, arugula, broccoli, etc…), containing powerful phytochemicals such as glucosinolates, isothiocyanates and indole-3-carbinol (I3C) which reduce free radicals, decrease inflammation and remove toxins from the body. This is why I emphasize the use of these vegetables with my clients, especially those dealing with a disease, but certainly everyone can benefit from their daily consumption.

Here are a few studies that make the connection between high cruciferous vegetables and their anti-cancer modalities:

Verhoeven DT, Verhagen H, Goldbohm RA, van den Brandt PA, van Poppel G. A review of mechanisms underlying anticarcinogenicity by brassica vegetables. Chem Biol Interact. 1997;103(2):79-129.

Shapiro TA, Fahey JW, Wade KL, Stephenson KK, Talalay P. Chemoprotective glucosinolates and isothiocyanates of broccoli sprouts: metabolism and excretion in humans. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2001;10(5):501-508.

Conaway CC, Getahun SM, Liebes LL, Pusateri DJ, Topham DK, Botero-Omary M, Chung FL. Disposition of glucosinolates and sulforaphane in humans after ingestion of steamed and fresh broccoli. Nutr Cancer. 2000;38(2):168-178.

Rouzaud G, Young SA, Duncan AJ. Hydrolysis of glucosinolates to isothiocyanates after ingestion of raw or microwaved cabbage by human volunteers. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004;13(1):125-131.

Shapiro TA, Fahey JW, Wade KL, Stephenson KK, Talalay P. Human Metabolism and excretion of cancer chemoprotective glucosinolates and isothiocyanates of cruciferous vegetables. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1998;7(12):1091-1100.

Seow A, Shi CY, Chung FL, Jiao D, Hankin JH, Lee HP, Coetzee GA, Yu MC. Urinary total isothiocyanate (ITC) in a population-based sample of middle-aged and older Chinese in Singapore: relationship with dietary total ITC and glutathione S-transferase M1/T1/P1 genotypes. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1998;7(9):775-781.

Steinmetz KA, Potter JD. Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: a review. Journal of American Dietetic Association. 1996;96(10):1027-1039.

Genkinger JM, Platz EA, Hoffman SC, Comstock GW, Helzlsouer KJ. Fruit, vegetable, and antioxidant intake and all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular disease mortality in a community dwelling population in Washington County, Maryland. Am J Epidemiol. 2004;160(12):1223-1233.

I’m currently writing a paper on this and plan to share part of it as a blog post in the near future ;-) Stay tuned for more…

Best to you Scott! ~Elisa


lynette mayo February 7, 2012 at 5:48 AM

Hi Elisa:
I contracted a rare disease out of the blue at age 68. I had been a semi-health nut since my thirties. There is no cure, it’s progressive, NO HELP ANYWHERE. Can you please recommend sometrhing to help me? The disease is Dercum’s.
Thank you.


jeff December 7, 2012 at 8:39 PM

My name is Jeff, my wife has been telling me for years that I do not need to eat meat every day. As I just had my 48th, I am beginning to believe. I have gained 20 pds in the last 3yrs and have no energy. We have gone through a lot this year financially and I know how much real veggies can cost. We live in St. Charles MO, and have been buying our groceries from Aldi’s. My ? is what veggie’s give you the most bang for the buck.

P.S very tight budget! But please give several examples. thank you for your time! Please email me your response. God Bless to you and yours!!!


The Jamros Family


Elisa Rodriguez, RD, LDN December 8, 2012 at 2:46 PM

Hi Jeff and family! Your wife is a smart lady. :) Dark leafy greens like kale and collards are the highest nutrient foods. This chart will give you a good idea of how to prioritize your food choices: ANDI Food Scores.


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