At the end of the day, nutrient-density is the secret to healthy eating. Nutrient-dense foods include the best sources of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and micronutrients.
What is nutrient-density?
At the moment, there is no common definition of nutrient density. Some definitions say it is a concentration of nutrients in food, others might say that it is depending on a balance between good nutrients and “bad” nutrients. 1
However, the most widely accepted definition says that nutrient density is the ratio of the nutrients in food on one side and the number of calories on the other side. This means nutrient-dense food simply provides the body with more nutrients than calories. 2
What foods are nutrient-dense?
Most nutrient-dense food is whole (unprocessed) and it contains healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, electrolytes, minerals.
If you are trying to increase your intake of nutrient-rich food, then you should eat more kale, spinach, cabbage, and other green leafy vegetables. Peppers, broccoli, beef or chicken liver, artichokes, carrots, berries, tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, garlic, salmon are great choices as well. 3
The nutrient-dense vs. calorie-dense
All food contains nutrients and calories. It is important to ingest enough food to get a sufficient amount of calories to meet your basic energy requirements.
The definition of calorie density is simpler than a definition of nutrient density. Caloric density is a number of calories per pound of food. The more calories per pound, the more calorie-dense food is.
Calorie density is often a good indicator if food is health benefits, many highly processed foods tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients. However, there are some exceptions where food is nutrient dense and calorie-dense. For example, nuts or avocado is calorie-rich food, but they are considered healthy foods. 4
The benefits of Nutrient-dense food
The main goal of every diet should be to achieve the right balance of nutrients and calories. Everyone should try to increase the intake of nutrient-rich food because of its benefits to health. Many nutrient-rich foods are also high in water and healthy fiber.
The healthy fiber in nutrient-dense food helps with maintaining a constant glucose level, reduce problems with constipation, and lower cholesterol levels. 5
Nutrient-dense foods are usually not calorie-dense, so it is a great option for individuals trying to lose weight. These foods offer the needed nutrients, without an unnecessary excess of calories.
Why many fiber-rich foods are also nutrient-dense
Phytonutrients are a term reserved for the beneficial compounds produced by plants. They are essential for plants and beneficial to us; because they play important roles in disease prevention. Phytonutrients tend to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. There is a strong link between phytonutrients and healthy fiber. Both are a natural part of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, tea, and nuts. 6
The critical importance of eating to maximize nutrient density is a relatively new concept. When this simple idea is understood and embrace it make eating healthfully rather simple. It means obsessing much less over counting calories, while simply focussing on eating mostly high quality nutrient-dense whole foods.