I’m not really sure when people started believing that dairy and grains were the end-all-be-all of nutrient density. Maybe it’s the obvious, vibrant, antioxidant-rich color of wheat flour. And in dairy’s case, its calcium levels trump all other foods’ nutrient content, right? More on calcium here and here in case you can’t sense the sarcasm.
When you tell people the basics of your Paleo diet, one out of 5 people inevitably asks, “But what do you eat? Do you get enough of everything you need? What about CALcium?!” Maybe you’ve wondered for yourself. I mean, you’re always told that this way of eating is more nutrient dense, but how much more? I’d seen Cordain’s study on the nutrient density differences, so I knew that he found the diet to be more nutritious, but I needed to see for myself. So I did an analysis comparing the nutrients in the Paleo diet and the typical Western diet and came up with some pretty awe-inspiring results.
I used www.nutritiondata.com to get my data. A while back I turned my nose up to this site when I found out they warn that breast milk is “highly inflammatory”, along with any other high fat food. However, the site does provide a LOT of data on all the different nutrients you get from food. More than any other free diet tracking site out there.
Below is the data, and it speaks for itself. Both diets are exactly 2004 calories (don’t ask how I did that). The %DV refers to the FDA’s recommended daily values, and it pertains to a 2,000-calorie diet. So for instance, if vitamin C is above 100%, that’s a good thing. If it’s below 100%, it means we’re not even meeting the FDA’s paltry standards.
As a side note, getting a typical Western diet down to 2,000 calories was nearly impossible without making my sample person look anorexic. Who actually eats 1 cup of cereal for breakfast? Nobody I know. When I asked around, people told me they ate anywhere form 2 cups to an entire box for breakfast. When I was a cereal eater, I paid no attention whatsoever to the serving size on the box (usually 1 cup). Serving sizes were for calorie counting ninnies and I didn’t need that tedium (in retrospect, yes, I did).
Anyhoo, without further ado, here are the diets and their respective nutrient stats.
Paleo Diet for a Day
Roasted Pepper & Sausage Omelet
1/2 cup sweet potatoes sauteed in coconut oil
4 oz Cilantro Turkey Burger & 1/2 Avocado
2 cups spinach
1 cup cantaloupe
2 oz homemade beef jerky
1/2 cup blueberries
Carrot Banana Muffin
Western Diet for a Day
1 cup Frosted Flakes cereal
3/4 cup skim milk
2 cups coffee with sugar
20 potato chips
McDonald’s small fry
12 oz Coke
1 cup spaghetti noodles
3/4 cup marinara
3 oz chicken
ice cream sandwich
Nutrient Paleo %Calories Western %Calories
Calories 2004 2004
Carbohydrates 119 g 24% 294 g 59%
Fiber 42 g 16 g
(25 g recommended)
Sugar 67 g 105 g
Glycemic Load 47 148
(target 100/day or less)
Fat 109 g 50% 57 g 26%
Protein 133 g 27% 75 g 15%
Vitamins Paleo %DV Western %DV
Vitamin A 48876 IU 978% 3072 IU 61%
Vitamin C 597 mg 995% 36 mg 60%
Vitamin D 30 IU 8% 124 IU 31%
Vitamin E 27 mg 135% 5.3 mg 27%
Vitamin K 1610 mcg 2012% 34 mcg 42%
Thiamin (Vit B1) 1.5 mg 103% 1.5 mg 103%
Riboflavin (Vit B2) 2.6 mg 150% 1.6 mg 92%
Niacin (Vit B3) 32.9 mg 164% 33.9 mg 169%
Vitamin B6 3.8 mg 191% 2.5 mg 124%
Folate* 752 mcg 188% 338 mcg 85%
Vitamin B12 6.7 mcg 112% 4.2 mcg 70%
Pantothenic Acid (Vit B5) 8.9 mg 89% 2 mg 20%
Calcium 614 mg 61% 711 mg 71%
Iron 21.2 mg 118% 19.4 mg 108%
Magnesium 496 mg 124% 185 mg 46%
Phosphorus 1547 mg 155% 731 mg 73%
Potassium 5205 mg 149% 1751 mg 50%
Sodium 2709 mg 113% 2866 mg 120%
Zinc 14.1 mg 94% 4.5 mg 30%
Copper 2.3 mg 114% .8 mg 41%
Manganese 4.9 mg 246% .9 mg 46%
Selenium 134 mcg 191% 78.2 mcg 112%
Fatty Acid Profile Paleo Western
Saturated 28% 36%
Monounsaturated 45% 15%
Polyunsaturated 19% 12%
Omega 3 4700 mg 232 mg
Omega 6 17,300 mg 6354 mg
Omega 6:Omega 3 3.7:1 27:1
(goal 4:1 or lower)
Trans Fat 0 g 0 g
* 104 mcg of the “folate” in the Western diet comes from food, while 234 mcg comes from enriched wheat products, which contain folic acid instead of natural folate. Research is now coming out suggesting that folic acid is associated with several types of cancer, and that its ubiquitous presence in the food system may not have been such a great idea after all…
We should touch on some details within this overwhelming DOMINATION on Paleo’s part. Did you notice the drastic difference in the vitamin A (well, beta carotene, etc.) levels?! And manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K, etc. etc.? In fact, the only places Paleo was not the clear ass kicker was with vitamin D, calcium and sodium.
The vitamin D in the Western diet mostly comes from the synthetic vitamin D in fortified milk products. I’m hoping you guys all regularly get out in the sun sans sunblock to get your vitamin D.
The calcium, as we see in the articles I linked you to in the first paragraph, is not necessarily a “more is better” kind of thing. Plus, it turns out that Paleo eaters don’t even get much less than a typical dairy-consuming Western eater.
You guys know how I feel about saturated fat by now. I hope. If not, here and here are some articles to shed some light on that. In a nutshell, it’s not bad. The only reason I even included the percentages of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids was to show you that even with all that meat eating, you’re not getting any more saturated fat than the standard American eater. It’s one of the flawed arguments against Paleo, and as you can see, Western eaters typically eat more saturated fat than we do.
The omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is astounding. Remember that omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory and omega 6’s are inflammatory, hence the profusion of inflammatory conditions like heart disease, diabetes, etc. This sample diet actually had the lowest (at 27:1) of all the Western diets I’ve been messing with lately. One Western diet day rang in at 45:1…
There you have it. It really is better.
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