Is There Any Food In Your Food? How To Be a Nutritarian


This topic has been getting more airtime lately: how calories aren't created equal. So make them count! I dug up an old-ass blog post when I wrote about this SAME topic, oh about 5 years ago. And here I am, 6 years later, still working on this with my own nutrition. It's a lifelong thing. I remember hearing for the first time that we should shoot for nutrient-dense foods as often as possible, and that all calories weren't created equal. I immediately though about my eating disorder back in high school. Thinking I was being such a conscious calorie-counter, I made sure to ingest ~600 calories a day.

And I never once considered that the calories I DID consume all came from one source: carbohydrates.

Do you know what carbs do if you don't use them up via exercise? They turn to stored fat.


So I was effectively defeating the whole purpose of counting calories to lose weight or be thinner--if that was really my true motivation. I have thoughts to share about my eating disorder which I'll cover in my book. Thankfully, I eventually healed on my own but not before that experience forever changed my relationship to food. That relationship continued to be problematic for another 10 years before I became a certified health coach. Now, I still have some old habits that need work from time to time, but I'm not acting them out in complete ignorance like I was before.

I think some people struggle with food not because they don't have a passionate desire to be more healthy or change their relationship to food but more because they don't know what else to do. There are SO many conflicting messages in our culture, it's hard to make sense of it all. That's a small piece of what I do with my clients and in my workshops and business meetings: we talk about food in a clear and honest way.

What are the habits? What are the questions? What are the fears?

What are some simple tweaks one could make that would add up over time to real, sustainable change in lifestyle?

One good place to start is assessing how much food is actually in your food. How much nutrition are you consuming compared to mere calories? Are you eating something, thinking you're doing well by yourself only to realize, dang! You just ate 300 calories worth of refined sugar and simple carbs in that "nutrition snack bar".

How about your smoothie? What's in it and how much of the calories are packed with nutrients? Check out my blog post on the anatomy of the smoothie to read more about that.

How To Be a Nutritarian

I have a client who loves carrots and hummus. Carrots and hummus is a nutritious snack, for sure. It doesn't make a meal, though, because it really isn't very comprehensive as far as nutrients go. You may have heard about Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I feel sorta cool because his wife was a regular customer at a store I worked for in New Jersey 10 years ago. I got to talk to her about once a week. Dr. Fuhrman has coined this term "nutritarian". While I don't agree with everything Dr. Fuhrman says, I DO love this term. It really seems to be the "diet identity" that would work well for many if not most people.

Nutritarians focus on the nutrient-density of their daily food intake. They ingest food not just because it's what they want to eat or because it tastes good (although it often does) or because it was convenient (even though it can be) but based on this one very simple distinction: how many vitamins, minerals, macro and micronutrients does it contain?

Got that?

You're eating to consume nutrients, not just to consume (or avoid) calories.

I consider myself a nutritarian, albeit an imperfect one. When I plan my day of eating, I scan through ideas in my head and make sure I have a plan to consume as many nutrients as possible--not just what I feel like eating. My goal is to eat because of what food contains, not just because it sounds like a good idea or because someone told me I should eat it according to the latest diet craze (ever notice the shelf-life on those fads, by the way? In one day, out the next.)

It's all about being intentional and mindful. It's where my Buddhism shows up in my everyday life, so it informs everything I do--not just those 10 minutes on a meditation cushion.

These are some ideas for what you can do on the run, but obviously you see why cooking at home makes this much easier--you can buy real food as much as you want and you don't have to try to pick from limited options available at restaurants, etc. It makes the case for cooking at home more often. 

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MAKE 'EM COUNT! Dollars and calories, i.e.

Make 'em count! Dollars and calories. That's what I'm talking about here...

I cruise through Davis Sq on my beloved fixie each day on my way to work in Porter and behold the lovely irony of Starbucks and Diesel staring each other down across the street from each the gunmen in The Quick and the Dead.

It makes me smile on the greyest of days, especially when I count heads. For me, and for you, there really should be no question where your precious dollar should go. Because I'm a holistic health coach, I don't stress myself or my clients out about calories, fats, carbs and all that other nonsense. Life is way too short to spend it dieting in misery, submitting to daily check-ins with a torture device (scale), slumped over and light-headed from nutritional deprivation until finally succumbing to "being bad" when the intrinsic human instinct to fight starvation takes over.

Instead I focus on the quality of the food my clients eat and where it comes from because I want them to do good by the planet and their local economy as they are doing good by their own bellies and wallets.

Spend wisely.

Don't eat crap.

Make your dollars and calories count.

Calories are needed for energy after all, they are the fuel upon which our vital organs and system are dependent. So stop wasting them on processed crap like high-fructose corn syrup (COMING SOON: CORN SUGAR!) and autolyzed yeast extract. These are ingredients you won't find in most if not all the products sold at your friendly local cafe, especially Diesel. Before the haters come after me with fists raised claiming favoritism, I'll share that I'm partial to Diesel because after an exhaustive search, I prefer their mocha lattes. I just do. You can have your favorite place too, there are plenty of rad choices in the greater Boston area.

The food, dairy and products at Diesel are real, fresh and locally sourced; most if not all of it comes from someone you can actually talk to or somewhere you can visit and it might even be YOUR neighbor who made the bread, delivered the baked goodies or milked the cow for the milk in that latte you're drinking. I can't say that for the jillions of ingredients and products listed on the websites of multinational corporate chains. Why should you care? Because when the money goes into local pockets, it stays in your local economy and not into the pockets of already SUPER-rich white dudes around tables plotting how to manipulate you into spending even more money so they can buy another yacht with it...or worse.

Not convinced? Want to know more about SHOPPING LOCAL? Contact Somerville Local First, Cambridge Local First and the Sustainable Business Network.

Because you should care where your dollar is going, please take your time to check out and compare the buying and sourcing of everything from the sandwich ingredients to the ever-important coffee bean of the corporate chains and your local space like Diesel. Your chin is likely to hit the floor, so buckle the strap of your bike helmet. Bring a pad, because you will want to take notes.

You're working hard for your dolla dolla bills. Spend them on real food which will nutritionally improve your health and not deplete it. Why else are you eating if not to FEED yourself? Spend the $5 you're plunking down on something with mileage so you can save in the long run.

If you're just cruising for a snack think about your purchase. If a product has more than five ingredients listed, try again.

Choose something with butter, flour and sugar (we like simple) and compare how it tastes to this product: (enriched, bleached wheat flour [flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], soybean oil, dextrose, salt, leavening [sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda], mono- and diglycerides with citric acid [as a preservative], soy flour, dry whey, sodium stearoyl lactylate, natural flavor, guar gum, enzymes, silicon dioxide, modified food starch, wheat starch, propylene glycol, ascorbic acid [dough conditioner], citric acid, tricalcium phosphate), glaze (sugar, water, maltodextrin, corn syrup, corn starch, palm oil, modified food starch, agar, calcium sulfate, potassium sorbate [as preservative], citric acid, mono- and diglycerides with bht and citric acid [as preservatives], locust bean gum, disodium phosphate, polysorbate 60), water, apple filling (apples [preserved with citric acid, ascorbic acid, salt], sugar, water, corn syrup, modified food starch, apple juice concentrate preservatives [sodium benzoate, sodium propionate, potassium sorbate], lemon juice concentrate, natural flavors, spices, salt, agar agar, citric acid), palm oil, cinnamon, yeast (with sorbitan monostearate, ascorbic acid).


In this case, less is absolutely more.

For one week, spend your money on real food from your neighborhood establishment that focuses on locally-sourced fresh ingredients. Consider the ecological impact of how it arrived on your plate as well as how you feel two hours after eating.

Send experimental data to me if you feel like sharing: