Calories vs Nutrients 

 April 24, 2016

By  nick

Nutrient Density Face-off

“If it fits your macros” has become a popular framework for losing fat and building muscle due to its simplicity and effectiveness. But is it really good enough?

We don’t just eat food for the macronutrients, but for the micronutrients as well.

“Hey. Yo. Personal Trainer. Should I eat [this] or [that]?”

If it fits your macros, the internet says you’re good to go. But does it fit your micros?

Ever wonder how your favorite foods stack up against each other in micronutrition?

Let’s pit your favorite foods against each other in a battle to the death.

Well, not exactly. You can still eat the losers, but not without knowing you could be eating something with greater nutrient density!

Animal Style

First, in the blue corner… We have chicken breast!

And in the red corner… America’s favorite food… chicken liver!Breast vs Liver 100g Macro Highlights 2

They’re both animal products and are nutritionally similar.

First – check the serving size. 100g vs 100g, a fair fight.

Observe the calories. Just about the same, still a fair fight.

Observe the similar macronutrients. Since macronutrients determine calories, this explains why the calories are so similar.

Let’s investigate a bit deeper…


That’s a drastic difference in nutrient density.

As a critical organ in your body, your liver plays a much more important to your body’s internal functioning than your chest muscles. It has the nutrient density to prove it.

Chicken breast is often regarded as a “health food,” but nobody ever hands chicken liver the microphone. Based on what you see, do you feel it’s well-deserved?

The truth is we grew up on chicken breasts and drumsticks. “It tastes like chicken.” Chicken breast just pairs well with so many dishes due to it’s mild flavor and familiar meaty texture. Meanwhile, chicken livers (or livers in general) have a much stronger flavor with a unique texture that is unlike the chicken muscles you’ve been eating your whole life.

Hometown hero aside, well-prepared chicken livers can be absolutely delicious. I’m a firm believer that if a food doesn’t taste good, you didn’t prepare it properly. One day I’ll share my liver recipe that finally allowed me to love (yes, love) chicken livers.

Power Plants

Now, let’s examine two common plant foods: spinach and whole grain wheat flour.

Spin vs WF 100g HighlightsThis demonstrates how much more energy dense wheat flour is than spinach.

Check the serving size: equal.

Now check the calories and macronutrients.

It’s night and day.

Observe the caloric difference for an equal weight of each food.

If you’re trying to gain weight and need lots of energy in a small package, wheat flour seems to do the trick.

Now, let’s reorganize these foods to compare them per calorie.

Spin vs WF 100cal HighlightAs you can see, the information I derived from nutritiondata.com was unable to get a perfect match, but within 20 calories here is basically the same thing. (If you’re a purist, just remember that spinach has the FEWER calories of the two, that will come into play in a moment.)

As you can see, the macronutrients are now similar due to a matched calorie content, but look how much more protein spinach boasts per gram of carbohydrate…

Those are some pretty big muscles.

I mean, you know. For a vegetable.

Now that we’ve seen the big picture, let’s see how they stack up on micronutrients, per calorie.

Take a look above. I’ve highlighted any prominent micronutrients provided by either source, indicating the weaker food with red and the stronger food with green.

When calories are equated, it’s a knock-out. Spinach is untouchable! That Pop-eye sure knew what he was doing.

Do Your Own Research

I chose these four foods based on how well they demonstrate extremes of nutrient density, but also because they’re all quite common.

If you’d like to search and compare foods for yourself, visit nutritiondata.self.com. It’s one of the best online databases out there.

Here are a few foods you might like to look up:

Did you find anything surprising?

Let me know what you find in the comments below!


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