It is Good to be Dense (Nutrient Dense)

By Larry Minich

Anyone interested in maintaining their present weight or losing weight in a slow methodical manner, can do so with ease by choosing food items that provide the highest nutrition for the calories consumed. Foods that are nutrient dense provide high nutrition and pack it in the least amount of calories. Weight loss is achieved by consuming fewer calories than you burn on an average daily basis. The average person can lose one pound a month by consuming only 100 fewer calories than they burn! That is the equivalent of one serving (about 10 chips) of (any brand) chips!

Choosing nutrient dense foods is easy and can be incorporated into any ethnic diet plan. That is, there are foods that can be used in Mediterranean, Mexican, Asian, European-American, African-American and all other households without major changes in the typical fare. Simple substitution of one type of bread for another, for example, can provide additional nutrition and health benefits. You are still eating bread, only now the bread you are eating is actually good for you! Why wouldn’t you make this change?

Another area that is easy to improve upon is selecting whole foods as opposed to processed foods. In general, if it is wrapped in plastic and/or comes in a box or bottle and can be eaten without further cooking, it is processed. Not all processed foods are bad. High fiber, multi-grain breads are still nutritious and a processed form of food. However, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes are all examples of whole foods that should be a part of any nutrient dense diet.

We choose processed foods mainly for convenience. Lack of preparation time makes these foods appealing for our time stressed schedules. So another obstacle to healthy eating becomes time management. There are many recipe books that have time in their titles (quick and easy, 30-minute menus etc.). With a little planning and the right utensils, eating nutrient dense foods will take no longer preparation time than the average meal.

So, what do you need and what are the best foods for nutrient density?

What You Will Need

Here is a short list of kitchen utensils that will aid in reducing preparation time, enable storage and minimize additional calories through the cooking process.

Non-stick fry pan
Quart size pot
Paring knife
Santoku (or chef’s) knife
Cutting board
Air-tight storage container (Freezer suitable)
Optional: High quality blender/processor

Depending on the number of people you are feeding, you will have to adjust the number and sizes of the pots and pans. These are minimal requirements and most people already have these utensils, if you have more, great. You can eat well using just these tools and, of course, some method of cooking (gas, electric, or fire). Now that you have your tools, what are some of the best nutrient dense foods?

Some Nutrient Dense Options

Many foods are good for you: vegetables, fruits, grains and lean meats or fish. Though not comprehensive, I will provide a list of the best of each category from which anyone with a bit of skill can devise a menu that is nutritious, low in calories, and high in variety.

Vegetables: Green leafy types (kale, chard, collard greens, spinach, dark green and red leaf lettuce),broccoli, potatoes (sweet or baking), cauliflower, peppers (red, green, or yellow, garlic, onions, carrots and legumes (green peas, chick peas, beans, lentils etc.) .

Fruits: Is there a bad fruit? A short list, everything in moderation and variety is best! Apples, bananas, berries, melons, oranges, grapefruit, grapes (seeded are best), kiwi, figs and apricots.

Grains: Amaranth, buckwheat (kasha), barley, quinoa, oats, flaxseed, brown and wild rice, bulgur (tabbouleh,) teff, and couscous.

Animal sources of protein: Wild salmon, lean beef, skinless chicken, and tuna.

Other sources of protein: Yogurt (low fat Greek-style), milk, other dairy, beans, nuts, soy products and whole grains.

As you can see, there are plenty of nutrient dense food options that will provide excellent variety and can be incorporated into every meal.

To help you get started and to illustrate the benefits of choosing nutrient dense over other dietary food options, let’s look at a typical American-style meal. Then we will see how replacing the ingredients with nutrient dense options change its value.

Typical American Lunch:
Cheeseburger (Jack in the Box Ultimate) = 990 calories
Fried potatoes (Jack in the Box Regular) = 330 calories
Soda pop (Coca Cola Classic) =97 calories

Nutrient Dense Lunch:
Broiled salmon (1/4 pound) = 243 calories
Whole wheat bun = 130 calories
Red pepper (1 cup, sliced) = 38 calories
Fruit salad (Puerto Rican style, banana, grapefruit, melon, oranges, etc.) = 140 calories
Yogurt (8 oz, plain, low-fat) = 106 calories
Blueberries (1/2 cup) = 41 calories
Water = 0 calories TOTAL CALORIES = 698

Wow! The nutrient dense lunch provides twice the food and half the calories.

What about nutritional value? We will use my personal Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) as calculated by the “Diet Analysis Plus” from our Understanding Nutrition textbook. My DRI for calories is 2862.

The MyPyramid analysis for the typical American lunch is as follows:
Grains = 20%
Vegetables = 11%
Fruits = 0%
Milk = 40%
Meat & Beans = 54%
Discretionary = 175%

Analysis for the nutrient dense lunch is as follows:
Grains = 17%
Vegetables = 29%
Fruits = 60%
Milk = 33%
Meat & Beans = 57%
Discretionary = 13%

As you can see, there are stark differences in the fruits and discretionary categories, significant increases in the vegetable category, virtually identical in meat & beans, and let’s not forget a reduction of 719 calories (103%)!

For a comparison of the actual vitamin and mineral components of each meal, please click on the attachment.

This example illustrates how easy it is to eat well and reduce your calorie intake. Substituting low calorie nutrient dense foods for the high calorie foods that are prominent in the typical American diet is a painless and smart alternative for those wanting to lose or maintain weight.

For additional information on individual food values and nutrition from the website click here
More information on nutrient dense foods may be found at click here.

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