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Just What is a Nutrivore Diet & The Characteristics of a Healthy Diet?

What is a healthy diet? There are no shortage of dietary options being offered that it can be bewildering. If you haven’t heard the term Nutrivore yet, I think you soon will do.

If you have read my web page on Food Testing, you will have seen that I don’t believe there is a ‘one size fits all’ that will be right for everyone – but there are characteristics a healthy diet should have. It needs to be nutrient dense and based on whole foods, not processed or refined foods. It needs to be nourishing and meet the individual needs of the person eating it. The Nutrivore approach to eating meets that criteria.

A Nutrivore diet contains foods that are nutritious with a mix of protein – meat, organ meat, shellfish and fish; healthy fats – butter, nut butters, virgin olive oil; fresh vegetables and fruits; starchy plants – like sweet potatoes, squash etc; nuts and seeds; herbs and spices.

A Nutrivore diet does not include industrial seed oils like corn oil, palm oil, margarines; or refined flour, gluten grains, processed foods, and excess refined sugars, sweeteners.

The Nutrivore lifestyle would be leading a healthy life without smoking, taking plenty of exercise and getting plenty of sleep, not drinking alcohol excessively, while managing stress.

The Nutrivore diet isn’t nearly as specific or restricted as some others. There isn’t a list of ratios you have to hit or calories to count.

We all have our individual needs that vary, which means that our personal definitions of a healthy diet will vary too. Research into the diets of contemporary hunter-gathers bears that out. There doesn’t appear to be one optimal diet, instead some people thrive on higher fat intakes, such as the traditional Inuit of Alaska and the Maasai of East Africa, while others emphasise carbs, like the Kitavans of Melanesia and the Okinawans of Japan.

What both contemporary and ancestral hunter-gatherer societies have in common is their diet is nothing like the standard diet of processed and refined foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, that we have today – and are associated with climbing rates of chronic disease.

We didn’t always eat like this. The human diet changed fundamentally with the Agricultural Revolution.The First Revolution circa 10,000 BC, was the prehistoric transition from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture during the Arab Agricultural Revolution between 8th-13th centuries.

The second Agricultural Revolution began in England from the early 16th century, thought to have occurred because of three major changes: the selective breeding of livestock, the removal of property rights to common land, and new systems of cropping. In a few years, English agriculture transformed from a peasant subsistence economy to a thriving capitalist agricultural system, capable of feeding the teeming millions in the new industrial cities.

The Nutrivore diet opts for an eating pattern that more closely resembles the ones our ancestors followed, similar to the Paleo diet. This is believed to go a long way to correcting the genetic mismatch that’s responsible for the rise in chronic disease. That means living a longer, healthier and more vibrant life.

There’s a lot of variation when it comes to defining a healthy diet. Rather than focusing only on the details, like the macronutrient content – it makes sense to look at the overall diet quality. The quality of your diet deals with the types of foods you eat, rather than looking at the amounts. For example, a slice of pizza versus a sweet potato – a small portion of sweet potato is more nutrient dense than a large slice of pizza.

High-quality diets prioritise nutrient dense foods including a high concentration of micronutrients and amino acids that our bodies need to thrive. Our bodies need roughly 40 different micronutrients to function normally, and the only way we can get them is through our food. Eating such foods can protect against deficiencies and related health problems. Processed foods can never replicate this.

Some of the foods with the highest nutrient density include organ meats; herbs and spices; nuts and seeds; cacao; fish and seafood; beef, lamb, veal, and wild game; vegetables; low Gi and berry fruits; pork; eggs and dairy.

The typical Nutrivore diet includes plant and animal products. We get a variety of essential and non-essential nutrients from both plant and animal products. We have evolved to eat meat. Archaeological evidence suggests that our hominid ancestors have been eating meat for at least 2.5 millions years and has given us the human biology to eat, digest, assimilate, utilise and evacuate that we have today, to include both meat and plant based foods in suitable proportions according to our current dietary needs.

The Nutrivore diet is not about calories which are not the same as volume, if you are trying to get around 68% of your daily calories from animal products and the remaining 32% from plants – that does not mean that 68% of your plate should be piled with animal products. We only need a small portion of animal product (this being good quality and nutrient dense), and the suggested balance is to aim for around 70% plant foods, with animal foods take up the remaining 30%. The specific amount is what works for the individual according to their age, activity, health and dietary needs.

The Nutrivore diet is akin to Paleo and Veganism combined. Some have called this the Pegan diet. A Nutrivore diet can be described as a pyramid of food types with appropriate quantities of each food category and the choices are according to personal preference, so it’s not prescriptive and you have choice within the categories. The most nutrient dense foods come at the peak of the pyramid because we need less quantity of these to meet our nutritional needs.

Starting from the base of the pyramid there are 6 layers and foods to choose from are as follows –
  • Bottom layer – Unlimited amounts of non-starchy veggie plant foods – green leafy vegetables, asparagus, tomatoes, avocado, broccoli, green beans, fennel,bell peppers, etc, with every meal where possible, as a guide.
  • Next layer – 3-5 servings of fat every day, and 4-6 oz of protein per meal – meats, fish, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, virgin olive oil etc.
  • Next layer – Focus on low-glycemic fruit – berries, apples, and up to 2 servings (about 2 tbsp each) of starchy vegetables per day – sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, etc.
  • Next layer – Beans, legumes, non-gluten grains – borlotti, cannellini, lentils, peas, millet, quinoa, brown, rice etc. About 2 tbsp of each once a day.
  • Next layer – Spices and herbs – cinnamon, ginger, basil, chives, rocket, etc. Unlimited amounts.
  • Top layer, the very peak of the pyramid – Treat sparingly, not every day. These are classed as recreational treats – wine, beer, patisserie etc.

The beauty of this approach to healthy eating is it doesn’t imply rigid rules or a template you have to follow. It allows flexibility, individualisation, and experimentation. It also encourages us to make our diet choices broader to include foods that we may not eat at present and thereby maximising our scope of nutrient availability.

I have written that not all foods are right for everyone – even if they come within the nutrient status. There can be many reasons for this; a genuine allergic reaction – or a sensitivity because the health of the gut has become imbalanced from antibiotics, medications, over dependency on processed foods, lack of soluble fibre, a stressful lifestyle, lack of quality sleep, not enough exercise, and social isolation being a few reasons.

Working as a kinesiologist, I try to get the cause of why some foods are not being well tolerated. Amongst the possibilities, a Food Sensitivity Test is always high on the agenda to highlight where it may be best to avoid certain foods for a period of time and monitor the effects. Read my link to Food Testing to find out more.

Our bodies are a wonderful creation, made for us to live happy, healthy, vibrant lives.