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The Quest for Nutrient Dense Foods

Nutrient Dense Foods

Food…. The mere mention of this single word brings so many images to mind; enjoyment, family, celebration, community, satisfaction, creativity, and exploration to name just a few. Around the world cultures and food are inextricably intertwined. Food, like language, defines a culture.

In America a culture war of sorts is going on between an industrialized food supply and those who wish to celebrate food as a labor of love. We also see a tremendous surge of interest in the nutritional aspect of foods. On the one hand we see a society facing an ever-increasing amount of degenerative diseases and on the other hand we hear many people calling for a return to wholesome foods that truly nourish.

In a previous article, Food Quality & Digestion, we looked at the tremendous variation that exists when comparing the best and worst quality of the same food. The striking supposition from that article is that as the nutrient content varies, so does it’s impact on human health. The logical conclusion is that we should all be eating high quality food.

The USDA has done a tremendous job of databasing the average nutrient density of fruits and vegetables along with many other foods. The long-term trend is no surprise but disturbing none-the-less; nutrient density is dropping! With an eye on health that comes from nutrition, we must not be satisfied to know the average. Rather we must seek optimum nutrient density. This is the type of food that will lead us away from the scourge of malnutrition/degenerative diseases and help us fulfill Hypocrites’ dictum to “Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be food.”

For years followers of Dr. Carey Reams’ method of agronomy have boldly declared that the brix reading is the snapshot picture of nutrient density. Dr. Reams frequently stated: “An increase in brix is an increase in carbohydrates and mineral density while a decrease in brix is a decrease in carbohydrates and mineral density.” In response to critics of the Brix=Quality concept, I analyzed fresh green beans from my garden and compared them to fresh green beans purchased from a local market. See box for differences.

Grocery Store Green Beans

Grocery Store Green Beans

  • Brix:  4.2 Poor
  • MDR:  -246
  • Dry Matter:  8.1%
  • pH:  5.5
  • Taste:  Garbage

Garden Green Beans

Garden Green Beans

  • Brix:  6.1 Average
  • MDR:  -92
  • Dry Matter: 16.6%
  • pH:  6.4
  • Taste:  Decent

Here we see that with only a 2-brix difference the dry matter content more than doubled. The weight per volume, as measured by the Mineral Density Rating (MDR) improved and taste was significantly enhanced. On closer inspection the nutritional density between the two green bean samples became starkly apparent. The grocery store beans were very similar to the USDA average while the beans from the garden showed significant improvement in nutrient levels. The table below lists the specific amount of each nutrient measured in grams and milligrams found in 100 grams (about 3 ½ oz.) of beans. We also list the % Daily Value for the USDA average and the garden beans.

Nutrient USDA %DV Store Garden %DV
Protein 1.8 g 4% 1.76 g 3.34 g 7%
Calcium 37 mg 4% 70 mg 130 mg 13%
Magnesium 25 mg 6% 30 mg 50 mg 13%
Phosphorous 38 mg 4% 40 mg 80 mg 17%
Potassium 209 mg 6% 190 mg 580 mg 17%
Copper 0.1 mg 3% 0.1 mg 0.4 mg 20%
Iron 1.0 mg 6% 1.3 mg 2.1 mg 12%
Zinc 0.2 mg 2% 0.72 mg 2.3 mg 15%
Manganese 0.2 mg 11% 0.29 mg 0.35 mg 18%


Interestingly, the garden beans were planted in early autumn. Growing conditions were not ideal and I barely got the beans harvested before the plants froze out. A brix reading of 6.1 makes me wonder just what the nutrient density would be for 12 brix green beans. The quest for nutrient density starts by asking the right question. And that, in my opinion, is “How much nutrition should produce contain in order to confer the greatest benefit to those who consume it.”

The USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference is available at: An excellent searchable presentation of this data is available from


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