Nutrient Density: Sticking To The Essentials – Mathieu Lalonde (AHS12)

I’ve been a big fan of Mathieu Lalonde ever since I saw his Science of Nutrition lecture. Seriously, if you can buy a copy or attend one of these all day affairs, you’re going to come out with a lot of knowledge you didn’t have when you walked in.

So it was with great anticipation that I’ve been awaiting his Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS) 2012 presentation: Nutrient Density: Sticking to the Essentials. Well, it’s finally out, and as with most things Matt Lalonde, it’s well worth watching.

He starts by covering the concept of Nutrient Density in a historical context: A paper by Boyd Eaton and Lauren Cordain on Nutrient Density, NuVal scores (ideologically/politically biased towards plant-based diets), and ANDI Scores (again, artificially biased against meats). Given that all the established models had significant problems, Lalonde decided he would crunch some numbers and make his own, based on a simple formula:

Nutrient Density = (Σ Essential Nutrients Per Serving) / (Weight Per Serving)

I’m going to stop my discussion here to introduce his video. Everything that follows is based on what he talks about. After the video, I’ll continue…

Interesting conclusions:

  • The best nutrient densities for cooked grains are already negative numbers.
  • Raw grains have a better nutrient density than cooked, but alas, we can’t usually eat raw grains.
  • The notion that grains and legumes are amongst the healthiest foods come from an analysis of them in their raw and inedible state. Once you look at their cooked values, they are amongst the worst (from a nutrient density standpoint).
  • Bacon turns out to be some of the most nutrient dense meats (ditch the grease).
  • The lowest scores for beef are where the highest scores for grains started at.
  • Oysters are awesome. (I think bacon wrapped oysters might be a superfood.)
  • Game meat (like Elk, for example) is surprisingly low. I had expected it to have a higher score.
  • Organ meats (excluding tripe, lungs, and some others) are awesome.

Nutrient Density Averages:

Category Avg. Nutrient Density Scores Category Avg Nutrient Density/Caloric Weight Scores
1 Organ Meats and Oils 17.05 Organ Meats and Oils 0.49
2 Herbs and Spices 16.78 Herbs and Spices 0.21
3 Nuts and Seeds 10.28 Nuts and Seeds 0.09
4 Cacao 7.97 Legumes (Raw or Cooked Edible) 0.02
5 Fish and Seafood 1.16 Fish and Seafood 0.02
6 Pork 0.69 Pork 0.01
7 Beef 0.31 Beef 0.009
8 Eggs & Dairy -0.56 Cacao -0.001
9 Vegetables (Raw & Unprepared) -0.70 Lamb, Veal and Wild Game -0.03
10 Lamb, Veal and Wild Game -1.19 Poultry -0.05
11 Poultry -1.71 Plant Fats and Oils -0.05
12 Legumes (Raw or Cooked Edible) -2.86 Animal Fats and Oils -0.07
13 Processed Meat -3.10 Processed Meat -0.09
14 Vegetables (Cooked, Blanched, Canned, Pickled) -4.84 Eggs & Dairy -0.10
15 Plant Fats and Oils -5.41 Refined and Processed Fats and Oils -0.13
16 Fruit -5.62 Animal Skin and Feet -0.15
17 Animal Skin and Feet -6.22 Grains and Pseudocereals (Cooked) -0.25
18 Grains and Pseudocereals (Cooked) -6.23 Grains (Canned) -0.38
19 Refined and Processed Fats and Oils -6.43 Fruit -0.44
20 Animal Fats and Oils -6.88 Vegetables (Raw & Unprepared) -0.53
21 Grains (Canned) -7.04 Processed Fruit -0.54
22 Processed Fruit -8.12 Vegetables (Cooked, Blanched, Canned, Pickled) -0.74

Ideally, the essential nutrients he uses to calculate nutrient density would be based on the following, but not all data are available. This introduces a bias for and against certain foods that would be nice to have corrected in the future. The data he has available doesn’t distinguish between Vitamin D2 and D3, nor does it distinguish between the various fatty acids. The table below is his proposed model for how to measure Nutrient Density. Data that was not available to him (but that he would like to be used in Nutrient Density) is indicated:

Fatty Acids:
Amino Acids:

27 Responses to “Nutrient Density: Sticking To The Essentials – Mathieu Lalonde (AHS12)”

  1. I heard about his talk last year, but just like you did, I saw this video earlier today. It was very interesting, and a step in the right direction. However, I do have a few problems with the way it was presented:

    - The bit about the duck. The way Mathew presented it sounded like ducks are low nutritionally, which is not true. The specific meat tested was for young duckling, which indeed, have no nutrition to speak about. But adult ducks do.

    - The bit about veggies, and especially fruits scoring so low. There’s more to nutrition than 15 vitamins and 10 minerals. Fruits have flavonoids and other natural anti-oxidants that can be very useful. If the early man ate fruits, then we can do so too without fear (at least, the ancient, low-sugar varieties).

    - Some foods might be very strong with a unique property that’s not easily found elsewhere, but be weak in most other respects. Honey is one of these foods. It strengthens our immune system, and it’s anti-bacterial. Hunter and gatherer tribes would often risk their lives for some honey. Such details off-balances his chart.

    This list might be the best we have so far, but more complete testing by the USDA is required about a variety of things, so we can get more accurate results. For example, I don’t buy it for a second that wild, game animals are equal or less good for us than industrial pigs (based on the result of this list). There’s a lot more things to consider than a few nutrients. The rabbit hole goes deeper than that.

    • Thanks for the comment, Eugenia! So much good stuff here, I’m sure I’ll miss some of it in my response…

      I remember being surprised by the duck and wild game profiles as well. I think Mat said he was too (maybe I’m projecting that though).

      About the fruit and the honey: I’ve cut both of those out from my diet (with very few exceptions), but I think I’m more metabolically deranged than most. I usually try to be careful about suggesting others have to be as conservative as I am.

      Flavonoids and other antioxidants: of course. I do like, however, the focus on the essential vitamins and minerals. To me, that’s the right approach to take if you’re looking for a system that can help inform the foundation of your food choices…which brings me back around to the purpose of this whole system:

      I think we kid ourselves if we look at this as a complete representation that can inform our food choices across all possible dimensions. Like you said, the USDA needs to do more research and over time, perhaps, this will grow and become a more powerful tool. Until then, we’re going to have this limited perspective biased towards the essential nutrients and no weighting at all to other components that may lead to optimal health.

    • BTW: I’d be curious to know what ancient fruits/ancient varietals you eat & incorporate into your diet. In my garden I grow only heirloom varieties of veg, but I’m afraid that these are still modern varieties (relatively speaking)…

      • Since I moved in the US I have only neolithic heirloom varieties on my balcony’s small garden, but in my home, in rural Greece, we go hunt for wild parsnips, and especially wild greens. Some are wild mustard greens, others are thistle-like, others I don’t even know how they’re called in English. We also eat wild amaranth greens (not its seeds) , and my grandma remembers a time of hunting for nettles and goosefoot (a pic of my mom holding one: ). We also have wild trees, like pears (which are considerably more bitter and hard than the domesticated varieties).

        But we don’t stop eating fruits and veggies all year round (seasonably). Traditionally, we’d eat red meat only 1-2 times a month. Poultry once a week. Fish 2-3 times a week. Our (older variety) grains and legumes were always fermented too. Things changed in Greece after the ’80s though, now no one eats like that anymore. They eat the same way as in the West.

        • They eat the same way as in the West

          I can’t think of a sadder or more depressing statement. My wife is from the former Yugoslav Republic and we’re seeing this same Western cultural-gastronomic encroachment. The food is still fantastic there, but there are now western fast food chains, “ready food” (frozen meals), etc…

          It’s sad to see. The whole region has such a rich and fascinating culture of food with a dizzying array of influences. The idea that this might some day be replaced by Big Macs and Taco Bell drives me crazy.

          Thanks for sharing the links to the amaranth and goosefoot: two fascinating plants that have never crossed my lips. I’m curious now…

          • I just came back from Ranch99 (first time there!). I found duck wings for $2.50/lb, rabbit, and free range, no-antibiotics, local pheasant ($26 for the whole bird). But I’ve also found amaranth greens (they call it “zen choy”). So if you have a Ranch99 close to where you live, that’s where you’ll find it. Recipe at the link above (in the comments). Best accompanies fish.

          • Thanks Eugenia!

            No Ranch 99′s here. Looks like it’s a CA, NE, WA and TX thing. I SO need it to be an IA thing… Looks awesome!

  2. Hi there. I also think Matt La Londe makes a lot of sense and was very impressed with his previous talk. As well as trying to raise the scientific profile of Paleonutrition he is also one of the first people to ahve mentioned the involvement of epigenetic phenomena in evolution and metabolism. Thank you for posting this very very interesting.

  3. I watched with interest and thank you for posting this. Lalonde however comes across as much less likeable as a person than previously. He is very intelligent man but a right arrogant a** if you ask me with little humility. Aren’t we all learning after all? It is a journey of discovery and re-discovery and some people alas will never stumble on this simple solution to many of their health problems. I am committed to spread the news and let people make up their minds!
    Anyhoo thanks a lot I working my way retrospectively down your posts. They all seem really really good!

  4. Yes I saw that and liked his ‘let’s clean this thing up’ type of approach yet…my favourite is Ron Rosedale I think the video you have might be the ultimate nutritional perspective. I agree with everything he says.Shall post a comment on it actually! :-)

  5. I followed a link and here I am

    Your table has an html flaw in it, somewhere around cacao, and is all messed up after that as a result (e.g. Fruit is classified under Animal Skins And Feet). Thx for posting it; if you cld clear it up for people, I am sure that they (as well as I) would appreciate it.

    • mjoneill

      Thanks for visiting!

      I looked at the table. Can you provide more info on how it’s broken/what web browser you are using? It might be that it’s unclear what the table is actually showing (blame my lame presentation and lack of design aesthetic for this):

      The left 2 columns rank foods by “Nutrient Density”. The right two rank foods by “Nutrient Density / Caloric Weight”. Because of this, the same foods will be ranked differently in each list.

      Apologies if there actually is a table error that I’m not seeing. Please send me browser details so I can reproduce. :P

  6. I really, really wish he had used the “ACCESS” version, perhaps *in addition to* the Excel version, just to tell us how the numbers changed. As Eugenia points out in her comments, there are certainly foods that are excellent sources of particular vitamins/minerals/aa’s and I wonder if that data were included how that would change things. Of course the EFAs as well.
    I’m sure meat would still score highly, but I would assume dairy would bump up the chart considerably, and some oils too. I’d also be curious how beans (high in lysine) would fare, etc. Surprisingly, the Paleo favorite of coconut oil etc doesn’t fare well under this system.
    In the end I was really interested in this, but ultimately disappointed because basically after pointing out the flaws in the other methods, he created his own *flawed* method guilty of the same transgression: leaving out data. It seems to me a more scientific approach would’ve been to include as many nutrients as possible (using ACCESS version). Oh well, I will hold out hope that he’ll do this someday.

  7. Mary Wier

    Thank you for this website, I am in Tennessee USA researching my spouse and I type 2 diet that went gluten and sugar free 3 years ago but which didn’t work too well as we were dependent on “gluten free” cookies crackers and breads made with dangerous starches–potato flour, rice flour. So we started over and kept at 75 to 80 carbs a day with no weight loss —spouse meter readings ok but not perfect—this year at his check up he had 176 FBS and 8.2 hga1c, never happened before in 16 years, and I was worried. then I saw his ferritin and folate numbers were elevated a lot from previous years and something told me he was reacting to the stricter carbs and then I found research in Finland and Spain about how elevated iron can antagonize insulin action and glucose uptake, so I knew I had to take the iron supplement away. I kept with the Web searches and found Anssi Manninen and Andreas Eenfeldt and Ketopia where I found the truth about how to work for type 2 health. I am so grateful for the Web and you all brave and bold with science truth. Spouse off iron pills 4 weeks, using coconut oil and olive oil with meals, lowered our carbs to 40 a day, to day was his first normal post prandial in 6 weeks. He did have ups and downs since March. Our doctor really wants him to get on meds I know, after finding you brave Europeans, I know what to do for our health. I did find a dietitian Sarah Ware on Paleo who said the enzymes have to figure out they are changing to fat metabolism so not to worry about glucose abnormalities. It was tough going to see spouse’s numbers. thank you all for putting the truth out there.


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