Nutrient Dense Foods: What Are They? Are You Getting Enough?

There are two phrases that often get mistakenly interchanged when it comes to discussing nutrition. These are nutrient-dense and calorie-dense, and they mean completely different things. Calorie-dense foods are ones that are contain a very high percentage of calories for their volume, while nutrient-dense contain a high concentration of vital nutrients compared to volume. Calorie-dense foods often also contain mostly empty calories, such as junk foods, sodas, and fast food. A good example to illustrate the difference between nutrient-dense and calorie-dense foods is to compare white bread to whole grain bread. White bread contains around 80 calories per slice, bur very little nutrients, whereas a slice of whole grain bread is packed with nutrients and only has around 70-75 calories per slice. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is a big difference between whole grain and whole wheat bread. One trick that many companies use it to label bread as whole wheat to appeal to consumers, but the bread is in fact loaded with negative components such as high fructose corn syrup and still lacking in nutrients. To be sure, always check the nutrition label and ingredient list, as it is whole grain breads that are nutrient dense, not whole wheat.

Breads Are Just One Issue

When it comes to building a balanced diet, especially one that is full of nutrient-dense foods, think of the saying “less is more”. It takes a lower volume of nutrient-dense foods to build a healthy diet than ones that have a lower nutrient content. This also means examining your healthy food selections, as not all are the same when it comes to nutrient density. Some of the best foods to consider for their nutrient density include: sprouts, potatoes, garlic, kale, seaweed, beef liver, sardines, egg yolks, blueberries, salmon, and dark chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa, or the optimal roasted cocoa nibs themselves. In terms of more common foods, edamame (immature soy beans), brown, black, and sprouted rices, watercress, spinach, chard, red peppers, pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, oranges, sweet potatoes, leeks, and brussels sprouts are all common and widely available nutrient-dense choices to add to your diet.

There are times when even eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are not enough, especially with modern farming practices. Foods that you expect to be nutrient-dense and that even look like they are healthy, can be deceptively lacking in nutrients. Anything that is produced through mass farming techniques has most likely been grown in soil that has been depleted of nutrients, which means the fruits and vegetables are not able to obtain as much nutrition as those grown with organic methods in properly tended soil.

What If Your Choices Are Not Plentiful?

For many people it can be difficult to eat exactly how they would like. Income, location, medical conditions, and even age, can limit the viable choices in healthy foods available, much less nutrient-dense choices. While some nutrient-dense choices, like potatoes, are often fairly inexpensive, they are not always practical as a mainstay in everyone’s diet. Beef liver is another example of typically less expensive, but not practical nutrient-dense food. When you cannot meet all your nutritional needs through diet alone, supplementation becomes absolutely necessary. The human body is not designed to produce all the vitamins and nutrients it needs by itself, it has to take in the bulk of them through diet. When the diet cannot meet these needs, then supplementation is required to treat and prevent deficiencies.

There are many signs that a diet has become nutritionally poor and lead to a deficiency. Fatigue is often the most common sign of a lack of proper nutrients. Lethargy, an increase in pain, weird food cravings, weakness, mood changes, and discoloration of the skin are also signs for some of the most common nutrient deficiencies. While only a doctor can truly give a diagnosis, consulting with a dietician can also be helpful to determine what may be missing, as well as getting advice on how to correct any obvious nutritional gaps.

What Type of Supplement Should You Use?

The most important properties for any nutritional supplement are: source of nutrients, density of nutrients, and ease of use. Some may ask why cost is not listed as most important, and this can simply be boiled down to the fact that a quality nutritional supplement can easily be much less expensive than attempting to include the equivalent fresh foods into your diet. While a supplement should never be your only source of nutrition, it can be extremely helpful for those who have trouble eating a balanced diet, which happens to be the majority of people of the entire planet.

Ease of use is one element that goes beyond its form, such as pill or liquid, but something called bio availability. Not only is it important that the supplement you take be nutrient-dense, it must also be in a form that your body can absorb and make use of the nutrients. Thanks to increasing research and interest in nutritional supplements, it is not that hard to find a wide variety of nutrient-dense supplements that can provide proof of their bio availability. While considering this aspect, it is also important to look at what sources the nutrients come from. For people with food allergies, ensuring that the supplements you select do not come from allergens can be life saving. As long as you check the label and do your own research, finding a suitable nutrient-dense supplement can be your key to a higher quality of life and health, even when you cannot always eat well.