I’m sure you’ve heard the term “more bang for your buck,” and that’s how I like to think about nutrient density.
You only eat a limited amount in a day, so choosing foods that are high in nutritional value will help you meet your nutrition goals while staying in a proper energy or calorie balance for your body.
Nutrient-dense foods are high in vitamins and nutrients relative to their caloric content. These will support your body and mind and leave you with more energy than choosing empty calories found in processed snacks and sugary foods.
Creating a diet that you stick to can seem like a challenge if you’re just starting out on your journey to better health.
But a great way to start is to jot down a list of nutrient-dense foods, then try to add a new variety weekly. Another great way to increase variety is to eat seasonally. Try to find a local farmers market to get some new local and seasonal foods on a weekly basis!
When making healthy changes to your diet, there is a lot to consider, and you should always keep in mind a gradual and balanced approach, as it will be easier to stick with.
What is nutrient density?
The nutrient density of a food depends on its ratio of beneficial ingredients to energy content or number of calories.
The easiest way to identify nutrient-dense foods is to look at their nutritional content.
The most nutrient-dense foods will have high levels of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If the item has high amounts of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat, it won’t do your body any good in the long run.
Although foods high in added sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat may taste delicious, they won’t do as much to support your body’s essential functions and may cause you to crash after a brief burst of energy.
In general, nutrient-dense foods that should be included in your diet regularly are vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean protein, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats.
Why is it important for health to eat nutrient-dense foods?
Eating a nutrient-dense diet supports your body in its daily functioning as well as supporting your overall health and longevity.
Your caloric needs in a day are limited, so eating foods low in calories, added sugar, saturated and trans fats, and high in beneficial nutrients like protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals is an essential part of staying healthy. . healthy.
What you eat has an impact on the energy you feel from day to day, how you recover from physical activity, your cognition, and your mood. Also, what you eat has a big influence on your risk of developing and managing chronic diseases. If that doesn’t motivate you to eat nutrient-dense foods, I’m not sure what will.
How To Make Your Diet More Nutrient-Dense: The Dietitian’s Top 7 Tips
Making your diet more nutrient dense is easier than it sounds. Although it does require some thought, planning, and consistency to be effective in improving your health. However, the result is worth it, with a healthier body fueled by the quality nutrition you crave.
1. Add more leafy greens
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are full of minerals, fiber, and vitamins, and are low in calories.
They can be used in salads, in pasta dishes, or mixed into smoothies if you’re not a big fan of the flavor. Using vegetables as the base of your meal, instead of carbohydrates, is a great way to support your overall health by including a wealth of nutrients.
2. Eat the rainbow
Take a look at your plate: in a perfect world, it should contain all the colors of the rainbow. Eating a meal packed with red, green, purple, orange, and yellow vegetables will leave you feeling strong and satisfied.
Including the rainbow at every meal may not be realistic, but it’s a good goal and reminder to try to eat a variety of colors at every meal and throughout the day.
Colors often reflect the nutrient profiles of foods, and if your meal or snack is solely beige and white, try adding a bit of color and you’ll be adding nutrients at the same time.
A research review of 86 studies and more than 37 million participants showed that health outcomes were improved by including more color pigments in the diet. Associated health outcomes included body weight, lipid profile, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, mortality, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.1).
3. Eat protein with every meal and snack
Protein keeps you full longer while supporting your mood, muscles, immune system, and more.
For a complete nutrient profile, try to eat a variety of whole food protein sources, both plant and animal, such as poultry, nuts, beans, tofu, eggs, meats, lentils, and seafood.
As a general rule of thumb, try to get 20-30 grams of protein at each meal and 10-20 grams of protein at each snack.
4. Eat more fruits and vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables are incredibly rich in micronutrients. Try to include a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and snack, with a goal of at least 5 servings per day.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is key because they all contain different nutrient profiles. If you find it difficult to fit them into your day, you can incorporate them into smoothies, protein shakes, soups, sauces, dressings, or pasta dishes.
5. Opt for whole foods
Whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet and a staple in many cultures. The term whole grain refers to a grain that has all three parts intact, the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
Most of the nutrients are found in the bran, which is removed during processing of refined grains and many processed foods, which is why you get more nutrients from eating whole grains.
Nutrient-dense whole grains include whole wheat, oats, buckwheat, bulgur, barley, brown rice, quinoa, and more.
6. Create balanced meals
If you look at a traditional macaroni and cheese dish, it’s not a very balanced meal. Simply speaking, it lacks protein and color (nutrients).
The goal is for your meals to contain all three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
However, creating a nutrient-dense meal doesn’t mean you have to get rid of what you love. Instead, make a few swaps to add more nutrients. Start by swapping out the white pasta for whole grain and/or high protein pasta in your macaroni and cheese recipe, then add a handful of broccoli and chopped chicken. Following a nutrient-dense diet occasionally requires some creativity.
7. Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods
Here’s the thing, there is no one superfood that covers all of your nutritional needs. However, we are creatures of habit and tend to choose the same foods over and over again.
Try to incorporate a different nutrient-dense food into your diet each week, and find new recipes that include different vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and proteins.
The variety will also help ensure that you get a wide range of vitamins and minerals, which will help prevent any nutritional gaps in your diet.
Nutrient-dense foods are an important part of a healthy diet. When you choose nutrient-dense foods over empty calories, you’ll increase the amount of vitamins, nutrients, protein, fiber, and good fats your mind and body need to thrive.
So next time you’re at the grocery store, try filling your cart with nutrient-dense foods, including vegetables, fruits, lean animal and plant proteins, and low-fat dairy.
If this seems overwhelming, remember that you can still eat low-nutrient foods in moderation. Trying to follow a diet that is too restrictive will not be enjoyable or sustainable in the long run.