Nutrient-dense foods are those that have a lot of nutritional value given the amount of calories that the food contains. Although many nutrient-dense foods are low in calories, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, there are some foods that are both high-calorie and nutrient-dense.
Nutrient-dense foods normally contain a lot of water and a lot of fiber, as well as other essential nutrients. The fiber and the water in these foods cause them to be bulky, so they are more filling and take longer to go through the digestive process. High-calorie, nutrient-dense foods generally have a lower water content, so the nutrients are more concentrated. The standard portion sizes for these foods tend to be small.-
Choosing high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods over other high-calorie foods will allow you to get more of the vitamins and minerals you need for the same amount of calories. However, choosing nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories would allow you to consume more food for the same amount of calories, which is particularly helpful if you are dieting.
High-calorie but nutrient-dense foods include dried fruit, avocados and nuts and seeds. Eggs, low-fat dairy and meats and fortified foods can also be nutrient-dense options. Low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods include most fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The lowest calorie food isn't always the most nutritious. Some foods that are low in calories are also low in other nutrients, while other foods that are a bit higher in calories have a lot more nutritional value. Sugar-free hard candies, for example, are a less nutritious option than dried fruit because of this. Also, foods that are low-fat or fat-free can still be high in calories and low in nutrients. Fat-free baked goods are an example of this.
Many of the higher-calorie, nutrient-dense foods are considered treats. Consider replacing desserts that are high in calories but low in nutrition with some of these foods to improve your overall nutrition. Perhaps a small handful of dark chocolate-covered dried fruit or nuts could be your dessert instead of a piece of chocolate cake. Although both are high in calories, the chocolate-covered fruit and nuts provide a lot of vitamins and minerals as well as healthy monounsaturated fats, while the cake provides mainly unhealthy saturated fats and sugar.
- Clemson University: Nutrient Density
- CNN: Get the Biggest Bang for Your Calorie with Nutrient-Dense Food
- Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition: Achieve Better Health: Your Guide to Nutrient-Rich Eating
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management: Cutting Calories While Controlling Hunger
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.