Nutrient density versus calorie density

We are what we eat. It’s a commonly used phrase and one that really rings true when you dig deep into the benefits of eating healthily. One of the most important parts of any diet is to eat nutrient dense food or, in other words, food that gives you plenty of nutrients for relatively low calories. Let’s take a deeper look at nutrient density and how you can make healthy diet choices.

The importance of nutrient density. When you eat plenty of high nutrient density food this ensures your body receives a range of vitamins and minerals. In turn, this supports the systems in your body and keeps them working efficiently. For example, one of the main causes of high cholesterol levels is too much saturated fat in your diet. By limiting the amount of this bad fat and replacing it with more nutritious options you can start to regulate blood pressure, amongst other things, and bring those levels down.

Conversely, if you eat a diet full of low nutrient foods the chances are your body is not going to process things very well. Also, high density foods have a tendency to make us feel fuller for longer, therefore we don’t feel the need to eat all the time. On the other hand, certain types of ‘unhealthy’ food can leave us wanting more and lead us towards eating higher calorie meals and snacks throughout the day.

Healthy breakfast

Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

Incorporating high density food

We’ve mentioned the benefits of eating plenty of these types of food but how do you go about doing it? Check these six top tips:

1. Eat more leafy greens – these provide some of the highest nutrient levels you will find.
2. Sprinkle nuts and seeds on fibre packed cereals – skip the toast and go for a highly nutritious breakfast to start the day off right.
3. Fill your plate with a rainbow of produce – eating a range of coloured fruit and veg provides a variety of essential nutrients.
4. Eat protein at every meal – this helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
5. Drop the low-density foods – replace food like white bread, rice and pasta with sweet potatoes, whole grains and pulses.
6. Add healthy fats – these are vital for mood, cognitive function and hormone balance.

If you can work these tips into your diet you are going to reap several health benefits. These include maintaining a healthy weight, increased energy and countering many of the causes of high cholesterol.

Whole foods vs junk foods

This comparison highlights the issue further, in that even though all foods provide calories they don’t all provide quality nutrients. Junk or processed foods are very high in calories versus the nutrients they provide, whereas whole foods give you much more by way of nutrients in relation to the number of calories they contain.

While whole foods by and large are natural in origin, junk food tends to be processed with high levels of salt and sugar. Junk foods may be good for a quick hit of energy but that doesn’t last long, whereas whole foods like oats, grains and beans will give you a slow release of energy which is much more beneficial. Also, because junk food provides a quick hit it doesn’t always fill you up, whereas a whole food with the same calorie content will do.

The key is to find a balance in your diet; a little of what you like is fine, but it’s vital to eat plenty of high nutrient density food and limit the amount of junk food you eat. Do that and you’ll be well on your way to better health.