The Quest for Nutrient Density

The Quest for Nutrient Density

By Jon C. Frank

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 (see 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 its 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 Beans

Dry Matter:
4.2 – Poor

Garden Green Beans

Dry Matter:
6.1 – Average
Very Good

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 1/2 oz.) of beans. We also list the % Daily Value for the USDA average and the garden beans.

Nutrient Content – Store vs. Garden

1.8 g
37 mg
25 mg
38 mg
209 mg
0.1 mg
1.0 mg
0.2 mg
0.2 mg
1.76 g
70 mg
30 mg
40 mg
190 mg
0.1 mg
1.3 mg
0.72 mg
0.29 mg
3.34 g
130 mg
50 mg
80 mg
580 mg
0.4 mg
2.1 mg
2.3 mg
0.35 mg

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.”

With that in mind International Ag Labs is sponsoring a competition to see who is producing carrots with the greatest mineral density. More importantly, we hope to arrive at a standard of optimum nutrient density. In other words we want to be able to say that a carrot of optimum nutrient density will have a minimum of so many milligrams of calcium and the various other nutrients per 100 grams similar to the USDA data that lists average nutrient density.

We recognize, of course, that mineral composition is not the only component of nutrition to be found in plants. It is the cheapest to analyze and is the foundation of al the other nutritional components of plants such as vitamins, amino acid profile, enzymes, sterols, and essential oils among many others. Since all these components contribute to the total dissolved solids we use the brix readings as the general indicator of quality and the mineral composition as the specific indicators of quality.

The competition invites your participation. Those producing carrots in the top ten brix levels will be asked to submit their carrots for a free nutritional analysis. Other parameters to be tested include; free nitrates, pH, brix, specific gravity, and percent dry matter.

We will also analyze a number of other samples from various commercial growers. Bob Cannard, who grows carrots for Alice Walters’ Chez Panisse restaurant has agreed to submit his carrots as well.

More details about the specifics of the competition, including prizes, are available on our websites. We would be happy to mail a copy if requested. The results of the carrot competition, with some statistical analysis, will be made available to the public. For those who want to prepare for next years competition, the crop will be strawberries. Happy gardening and may your carrots be the best tasting ever!

Jon C. Frank can be contacted at International Ag Labs, Inc., P.O. Box 788, Fairmont, Minnesota 56031, phone 507-235-6909, website

Reprinted with permission from Jon C. Frank.

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