Choose Nutrient Dense Foods

iStock_000019323306SmallHealthy eating is all about how many nutrients you can pack into your diet. Nutrition experts are using the terms “nutrient density” and “nutrient-rich” to describe the foods—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts. We should be eating more on a daily basis.

Nutrient density equals nutrients per calorie. The more nutrients packed into a calorie, the more beneficial it is towards making every calorie count most efficiently. These foods have not been diluted by the addition of calories from fats or sugars. Foods from nature such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grains, nuts and seeds are the most nutrient dense edibles in the grocery or market. Brightly colored vegetables like red bell peppers and dark leafy greens give you a significant nutrient and antioxidant windfall for little calorie cost.

A University of Washington study found that carrots and broccoli deliver the most nutrients for the least cost. Also, items like lower-fat dairy, eggs and seafood are also often rich in nutrients without a big caloric cost.

A nutrient -rich eating style gives you a concentrated amount of the valuable vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids and antioxidants needed for healthy aging.   A University of Florida study discovered that people who consumed more plant based foods and in turn higher amounts of nutrients, such as phytochemicals and minerals, maintained healthier body weights ad experienced less internal inflammation linked to chronic diseases than people with lower intake s of nutrient dense foods. It also found that people who spend a greater amount of time on home food preparation consume a diet consisting of higher quality calories.

Remember all calories are not created equal. Increasingly, science shows that a calorie from a nutrient-loaded avocado is not the same as a calorie from a nutrient-poor, sugary muffin. Indeed, nutrient-rich foods can be both very low and surprisingly higher in calories depending on the food item. Almonds for example, while an ounce delivers 164 calories, it possesses a range of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that them a nutrient-rich food.

But remember when consuming any food , if you take in more calories than your body burns you will put on weight. Eating a can of nuts because it is nutrient-rich is not the answer. Making your diet healthy by choosing fresh, unprocessed foods is the way to go.

Adapted from Environmental Nutrition newsletter.