In search of optimal nutrient density: veggies or whole grains?

In previous articles I’ve written about the heath benefits of eating whole grains, which have been shown in large epidemiological studies to be associated with reduced all-cause mortality risk. Based on this data, the USDA’s MyPlate recommends a minimum of 3.5 oz, up to 7 oz. of whole grains on a 2200 calorie diet. 3.5 servings of barley yields 350 calories, whereas 7 oz. yields 700. In terms of percentage of total calories, MyPlate recommends that 16-32% of daily calories should come from whole grains.

In terms of vegetables, MyPlate’s recommendations are shown below. They recommend 3 servings of vegetables per day, with these amounts varied between green vegetables (and other vegetables), red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and starchy vegetables. For ease of calculation I grouped ‘other vegetables’ with green vegetables. Based on the recommended weekly servings for each group and representative foods, I calculated weekly calorie amounts for each group. Average veggie calories per day = 187. Divided by 2200 calories, that equals 8.5% of total calories.


So clearly MyPlate wants us to eat between 2-4 fold more whole grains than veggies, in terms of total daily calories, but why is that? In a meta-analysis of 7 studies including 660,186 subjects, increased vegetable consumption is also associated with reduced mortality risk, as shown below:

veg mortality

Maybe whole grains are superior to veggies in terms of nutrient density? To see if that’s true, in the Table below I compared the nutrient composition of broccoli, spinach and romaine lettuce against barley (the king of grains for fiber), whole wheat spaghetti and oats. How do they compare in terms of macronutrients, when each has 100 calories? First, it should be obvious that to get 100 calories of veggies (see the serving column), you will eat significantly more food. To most, this will seem like a bad thing. But more chewing for the same amount of calories may end up in eating less, an important fact because of the worldwide explosion in obesity rates. Second, each of these veggies have 2-3 fold more protein and 3-4 fold more fiber than than whole grains. So far, veggies are far superior to whole grains.


What about vitamin content? As shown below, veggies crush whole grains for vitamin content. Whole grains are not better than veggies in terms of vitamin content for any category.

vegc vitamins

Maybe mineral content is better in whole grains? As shown below, they’re not. Veggies are much better in 9/10 mineral categories, with whole grains having marginally more selenium than veggies.

vegc miner

Based on these data, I have now dramatically increased my daily vegetable intake, while reducing my whole grain intake. Shown below is a snapshot of today’s veggie (and some other foods, too) intake, and it’s also important to mention that this amount is now representative of my daily vegetable intake. I haven’t eliminated whole grains, only minimized them.

veggies cal

My total veggie intake between carrots, beets, green peas, corn, asparagus and 1 pickle spear is 50.6 oz, or 1416 grams. Considering that 1 serving of vegetables = 80g, I ate 17.7 servings of veggies today. That amount is almost equal to what MyPlate recommends to eat in 1 week!

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!


Nutrition data from

Wang X, Ouyang Y, Liu J, Zhu M, Zhao G, Bao W, Hu FB. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causescardiovascular disease, and cancersystematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studiesBMJ. 2014 Jul 29;349:g4490.

Eat more green leafy vegetables, reduce mortality risk?

Vitamin K is found in 2 predominant forms, Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), found almost exclusively in green leafy vegetables, and Vitamin K2 (Menaquinone), found in fermented foods, organ meats, meat, butter and eggs. In the data below (Juanola-Falgarona et al. 2014), we see that Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) is negatively associated with death from all causes:

all cause mortl phylo

Death from all causes was assessed based on the average value for four groups of Vitamin K1 intake: 171 ug/day = blue line, 276 ug/day =red line, 349 ug/day = green line and 626 ug/day = the yellow line. In the data above, Vitamin K1 values less than 349 ug/day are about the same in terms of all-cause mortality risk. However, those who ate 626 ug/day of Vitamin K1 had about half of the mortality risk compared to the lower K1 intake groups! Interestingly, the RDA for Vitamin K, at 90 ug/day seems to be outdated, based on the data above. Also, Vitamin K2 was not associated with all-cause mortality risk, as shown below:

k2 all cause

Based on the K1 mortality data, 626 ug/day seems like a good goal. However, osteocalcin is a Vitamin K-dependent protein that has been shown to be maximally active in the presence of 1000 ug of Vitamin K1 (Binkley et al. 2002)! Osteocalcin is involved in pathways that decline with aging: insulin secretion and β-cell proliferation in the pancreas, energy expenditure by muscle, insulin sensitivity in adipose tissue, muscle and liver, and increased testosterone production (Karsenty and Ferron 2012). Therefore, getting 1000 ug+ per day of Vitamin K1 may optimize all of these functions and, decrease mortality risk!

What’s the take home from these data? Eat more leafy greens! How much is needed to get 1000 ug  per day? Shown below is a short list of foods rich in Vitamin K and the serving size needed to reach 1000 ug. Approximately 4 ounces of cooked kale or 7 oz. of raw spinach will suffice, and at a low calorie yield. Other foods, like broccoli, brussel sprouts or romaine lettuce would need to be consumed in far greater amounts to reach 1000 ug.

k osteo

What’s my daily K1 intake? Shown below is my 7-day average (7/16/2015 – 7/22/2015) for K intake, derived almost exclusively from plant sources. 1379 ug/day puts me well above the 626 ug/day that was associated with reduced mortality risk, and above the 1000 ug/day needed for maximal osteocalcin activation.

my k intake

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!



Binkley NC, Krueger DC, Kawahara TN, Engelke JA, Chappell RJ, Suttie JW. A high phylloquinone intake is required to achieve maximal osteocalcin gamma-carboxylation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):1055-60.

Juanola-Falgarona M, Salas-Salvadó J, Martínez-González MÁ, Corella D, Ostrich R, Ros E, Fitó M, Arós F, Gómez-Gracia E, Fiol M, Lapetra J, Basora J, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Serra-Majem L, Pintó X, Muñoz MÁ, Ruiz-Gutiérrez V, Fernández-Ballart J, Bulló M. Dietary intake of vitamin K is inversely associated with mortality risk. J Nutr. 2014 May;144(5):743-50.

Karsenty G, Ferron M. The contribution of bone to whole-organism physiologyNature. 2012 Jan 18;481(7381):314-20.

Restoring Boiling-Induced Sulforaphane Depletion in Broccoli with Mustard Powder!

One of the benefits that comes from eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and purple cabbage is consumption of sulforaphane, a naturally occurring anticancer compound. However, do you know that boiling these vegetables for longer than 4 minutes destroys most of their sulforaphane? Besides eating these vegetables raw (I like purple cabbage raw, but not broccoli) are there any foods that when combined reduce sulforaphane destruction? Luckily, the answer is yes!

In the figure below, the white bars indicate the amount of sulforaphane present after 4, 8 or 12 minutes of boiling. Boiling broccoli for 8 minutes destroys almost 2/3 of its sulforaphane, and after 12 minutes, sulforaphane is ~75% reduced. Adding ground mustard seeds (grey bars) at a relative to broccoli concentration of 1% or 2% restored broccoli’s sulforaphane content almost completely back to initial levels after 4, 8 and 12 minutes of boiling. It’s important to note that a mustard seed concentration of 1%, relative to broccoli translates into 3 grams of mustard seed powder per 300 grams of broccoli! That’s not a lot!

broccoli sulfurophane 2

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!


Ghawi SK, Methven L, Niranjan K. The potential to intensify sulforaphane formation in cooked broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) using mustard seeds (Sinapis alba). Food Chem. 2013 Jun 1;138(2-3):1734-41.

Broccoli vs Protein Bars

Do you eat protein bars and think that they’re a great protein source? Sure, they are. But is there a healthier way to get that protein into your diet?

In Table 1 I compared the macronutrient composition and, dietary fiber, sodium and potassium content of 2 popular protein bars, Met-Rx and Pure Protein with broccoli. That’s right, I said broccoli.

Met-Rx Pure Protein Broccoli
Size 1 Bar (85g) 1 Bar (78g) 2 lbs (900g)
Calories 310 300 306
Protein 32g 31g 25g
Fiber 2g 3g 23g
Sodium 200 mg 190mg 300mg
Potassium 160 mg 65mg 2840mg

One 3 oz. bar contains approximately 300 calories. In contrast, to get the same amount of calories, you can eat ~11x more food, 32 oz. (2 pounds) of broccoli!. One can make the counterargument that it’s difficult to eat 2 lbs. of broccoli. It’s not, and I eat a 2 pound broccoli meal 1-2x/week. What’s easier to do is eat a protein bar, not be full, and overeat! It’s much harder to overeat, in contrast, eating that much broccoli.

Next, eating that broccoli meal yields 8-11x more dietary fiber, for the same amount of calories. Dietary fiber feeds your gut bacteria, which may be involved in mechanisms underlying lifespan. Separately, broccoli’s potassium/sodum ratio is ~9.5, in comparison with less than 1 for both protein bars. An elevated potassium/sodium ratio is associated with reduced blood pressure (Zhang et al. 2013), which is a known risk factor for stroke and heart disease (Lawes et al. 2008).

Sure, it’s 2 lbs of broccoli, but are you really full after a 5-bite protein bar?

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!

Broccoli nutrition info from

Lawes CM, Vander Hoorn S, Ronders A; International Society of Hypertension (2008) Global burden of blood-pressure-related disease, 2001. Lancet 371: 1513- 1518.

Zhang Z, Cogswell ME, Gillespie C, Fang J, Loustalot F, Dai S, Carriquiry AL, Kuklina EV, Hong Y, Merritt R, Yang Q. Association between usual sodium and potassium intake and blood pressure and hypertension among U.S. adults: NHANES 2005-2010. PLoS One. 2013 Oct 10;8(10).