11 Nutrient-Dense Foods to Add to Your Diet

Making sure your body has all the nutrition it needs can seem daunting, especially if you have a busy schedule with little time to prepare meals.

A practical and simple way to ensure that you are eating foods with all the essential vitamins and minerals is by prioritizing nutrient-dense foods.

Eating nutrient-dense foods can often optimize the functioning of your body and mind. You may not have nutrient deficiencies, but getting sub-optimal nutrient levels can still lead to unfavorable symptoms that you may or may not be paying attention to, such as fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, weak nails, unexplained bruising, and forgetfulness or problems with memory.

Inadequate nutrition can also put you at risk for diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis, depression, heart disease, and more.

Nutrient-dense foods are vital for everyone, regardless of gender, age, weight, or health and fitness goals. The term nutrient dense remains relatively ambiguous as there is no standardized way to measure nutrient density.

What is nutrient density?

In the simplest terms, nutrient density is the amount of nutrients you get for the number of calories consumed.

With all the fast, highly processed, and convenience food options, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of grabbing a bite and ordering takeout for lunch and dinner. But often these foods contain a lot of empty calories: foods high in calories but lacking in nutritional value.

Instead of empty calories, it’s better to opt for nutrient-dense foods, which are rich in minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients important to your overall health. These will support your health much better than processed foods with added sugars, sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat.

When you eat a diet full of nutrient-dense foods, you may notice increased energy and better brain function, and even less sickness. It may also be easier to maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Nutrient Density Score

There is no standardized method for measuring nutrient density, although some methods are used to calculate a nutrient density score.

One method is the ANDI, or Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. This method gives food a score from 0 to 1,000 based on the number of nutrients divided by the calories it contains.

While this is a method of identifying nutrient-dense foods, it will automatically rank foods that contain more calories significantly lower, even if they provide a large amount of nutrients, including foods high in protein and healthy fats.

This raises the question, are nutrient density and calorie density mutually exclusive? The short answer is no, they shouldn’t be. A food can contain more calories and still be high in nutrients, such as nuts, seeds, and salmon. Even foods like lentils and beans will have more calories than vegetables, but contain more protein, which is a vital nutrient. We should not be afraid of calories, after all, we need them to survive, have energy and much more.

Another method used to assess nutrient density is the Nutrient Rich Food Index (NRF). This index evaluates 9 nutrients to promote (protein; fiber; vitamins A, C and E; calcium; iron; potassium; and magnesium) against 3 to limit (saturated fat, added sugar and sodium) vs. RACC (Reference Amounts Usually Consumed) per 100 calories (two).

More research, development, validation, and standardization is needed before you start using a nutrient density score to plan your diet. However, they can point out nutrient-dense foods that you should include in your diet to maintain your health.

Nutrient-dense foods

Fortunately, nutrient-dense foods are usually not too expensive and taste good. There is no “superfood” that will change your life or your nutritional status. There’s no need to buy expensive supplements when you can get the same, if not better, nutrition from whole foods and digest and absorb it better, too.

Try to include at least one nutrient-dense food at each meal, but that can seem like a challenge at first.

Until you get used to eating healthier, choose a few nutrient-dense foods at the grocery store each week and rotate them so you don’t get bored.

Here are 11 nutrient-dense foods to add to your diet:

1. Eggs

Few other foods are as delicious, affordable, and nutritious as eggs. Not to mention, it’s easy to prepare and versatile.

Eggs also contain protein, iron, vitamins A, B, D, and choline.

There has been some back and forth by government agencies on whether or not you should include eggs in your diet regularly because of the dietary cholesterol they contain. The current consensus is that unless your doctor has told you otherwise, eating 1 to 3 eggs per day can help your health (3).

Research actually supports eating whole eggs (yolk and white) to help balance and improve cholesterol profile (increase HDL and lower HDL) and reduce inflammation (4,5).

Eggs can be eaten hard-boiled for a quick snack, in an egg salad sandwich, or scrambled for breakfast.

2. Green leafy vegetables

Most people are aware of the nutritional importance of green leafy vegetables, but may avoid them because they don’t like the taste or aren’t sure how to prepare them.

The trick is learning to include them in your meals if you don’t like the taste of them on their own. For example, add a handful of spinach or kale to your smoothie or mix some into your bowl of soup or pasta, they’ll take on the flavor of the dish.

Massaging the tougher vegetables with olive oil and a little lemon juice can also soften the texture and flavor.

Leafy greens include spinach, kale, microgreens, kale, Swiss chard, arugula, watercress, romaine lettuce, and more.

Leafy green vegetables are a nutrient powerhouse, packed with a variety of nutrients like folate, iron, lutein, vitamin K, and beta-carotene.

3. Berries

Berries are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients like manganese, vitamin C, copper, folate, and vitamin K.

Not only are they delicious and incredibly easy to incorporate into your meals and snacks, they can also help lower cholesterol, improve skin health, and reduce inflammation (6,7, 8,9).

Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries are among the most popular berries eaten.

Pro Tip: To keep your berries fresh longer, wait to wash them just before eating. Or rinse the berries with a mixture of one part vinegar to three parts water, pat dry, and store in a container lined with a paper towel to absorb moisture.

4. Salmon

Whether you prefer it smoked as “lox” on your breakfast bagel or grilled, you’ll be reaping the nutritional benefits of this flavorful fish.

For example, a 100-gram serving of salmon contains protein, heart-healthy omega-3s, B vitamins, and minerals like selenium, phosphorous, and magnesium.

One serving of salmon actually contains 70-80% of your daily selenium needs (5).

When choosing fish and shellfish, look for sustainable fish. The nutritional profile varies slightly between wild and farmed salmon, with wild salmon typically having slightly higher amounts of nutrients and slightly fewer calories and fat.

5. Sardines

Unlike salmon, sardines are a bit more difficult to incorporate into your meals and more intimidating for many people. However, the tiny canned fish makes a great salad dressing and is actually a key ingredient in Caesar dressing.

Sardines are cost effective, high in protein, packed with vitamin D, B12, and calcium, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids (14).

6. Lentils

Lentils are popular with those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, as they contain plant-based protein, fiber, folate, and potassium (13).

The little legumes also contain polyphenols, plant chemicals with unique health-promoting properties.

Lentils can serve as a meat substitute or in addition to animal protein in shepherd’s pie, tacos, burritos, sloppy joes, pasta dishes, soups, and more.

7. Beans

Beans such as garbanzo beans, split peas, kidney beans, black beans, edamame, pinto beans, and navy beans are also popular sources of protein for those on a plant-based diet.

Beans are very affordable and are packed with dietary fiber, iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium (10, eleven,12).

8. Potatoes

Potatoes get a bad rap because there are so many processed foods like potato chips and French fries that are made with potatoes. Frying adds excess calories and saturated and/or trans fat, which is not the best thing for our health or to often include in your regular eating pattern.

However, in their natural form, when baked, boiled, or deep-fried, potatoes contain a healthy amount of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, manganese, and even vitamin C. Different types of potatoes will have a slightly different nutrition. compositions

9. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is truly one of the most ideal snacks. Greek yogurt is a macro-balanced snack on its own, with protein, carbs, and fat (if not fat-free).

A cup of plain Greek yogurt contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, and an impressive amount of protein (fifteen). Choose a Greek yogurt that is limited in added sugar.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy Greek yogurt is nonfat Greek yogurt topped with fruit (usually berries and/or banana) and a drizzle of cinnamon-dusted nut butter.

10. Cruciferous vegetables

The most popular cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

Most cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients like folic acid and vitamin K. They also contain fiber, carotenoids like lutein, and vitamins C and E (sixteen, 17, 18).

Dark green cruciferous vegetables (such as kale, bok choy, and broccoli) contain phytonutrients that may help reduce inflammation and cancer risk.

11. Nuts

Unlike many of the foods mentioned, nuts are high in nutrients and calories. They are packed with nutrients like healthy fats, protein, vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium.

Because nuts are predominantly fat, they have a smaller serving size and make a great snack for you at home, in the office, and on the go.

Looking for more nutrient-dense foods? Check out this list of 20 nutrient-dense foods.

takeaway

Small changes over time make a big difference. Instead of continually trying to cut foods out of your diet, start looking for what you can add.

Make a conscious effort to create a nutrient-dense diet by adding more nutrient-dense foods to your diet and see how it affects your energy, mood, and overall health.

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