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Nutrient Dense Foods

Updated on April 7, 2022
Written by
Kelly Jamrozy
2 sources cited
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Eating a nutrient-dense diet is a great way to reduce your caloric intake without having to count calories.

Whether you’re interested in losing weight or want to improve your overall nutrition, adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet has many benefits. 

Diets consisting mostly of nutrient-dense foods make weight loss easier. You get to eat less calories without feeling hungry.

At the same time, your body also gets the nutrients it needs. 

What is Nutrient Density?

Nutrient density measures the amount of nutrients per weight or calorie of food. It shows the concentration of nutrients alongside the caloric content of certain foods. 

In the U.S., we use the Nutrient-Rich Foods (NRF) to assess the nutritional profile of foods. Foods that contain more of the following nutrients are ranked higher:

  • Protein
  • Fibers
  • Vitamins A, C, and E
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

Meanwhile, foods that have more sugar, sodium, and saturated fats per 100 calories are ranked lower in the index.

What Are Nutrient Dense Foods?

Nutrient-dense foods are foods that are high in nutrients but have relatively few calories. They contain more vitamins, minerals, lean proteins, and fiber per serving. 

They are usually low in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. More often than not, they tend to be whole foods.

Nutrient-dense foods are the opposite of empty calories. These are foods that contain more calories per weight of food than they do nutrients. 

When you eat empty calories, it means you aren’t getting much return on your caloric investment. They have little nutritional content but add a lot to your total calories.

Foods that are high in nutrient density also tend to have a low calorie density. Low calorie-dense foods have minimal calorie content but are rich in fiber, water, and nutrients.

This is why nutritionists sometimes call them low-calorie nutrient-dense foods.

What Are Some Nutrient Dense Foods?

Below is an extensive list of foods that have high nutrient density. We divided them into different food groups so you know what to include in your diet.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Examples include:

  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Citrus
  • Avocadoes
  • Cruciferous veggies including broccoli and Brussels sprouts
  • Leafy greens including lettuces and spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers

Eating a salad with veggies and fruits means you will get a wider variety of nutrients. Remember that fresh raw vegetables are the highest source of fiber and nutrients.

A vegan weight loss diet mostly consists of fruits and vegetables. However, some people struggle to eat them raw.

If this is the case, then it’s best to introduce them slowly into your diet. Until then, you can supplement your diet with cooked alternatives.

Just make sure that you use fresh or flash-frozen ingredients to avoid added sugars, sodium, and preservatives.

Whole Grains

Whole grain foods contain fiber, amino acids, minerals, and B vitamins. Some whole grains are:

  • Oats
  • Heat
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Quinoa

When choosing grains, make sure they are whole options. Never substitute them with refined grains.

Refined grains such as white rice and white bread may be fortified with vitamins, but they contain less fiber and more calories per serving.

You should also avoid replacing them with whole grain products like wheat bread. You can still eat them, as long as they don’t make up a large part of your diet.

Because they are processed foods, they have a lower nutritional value than whole grains.

Seafoods

Seafood like fish, shrimp, and shellfish are rich in:

  • Protein
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin D and A
  • Zinc
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., DHA and EPA)

Unless you are allergic to them, they are fairly nutritious foods that can be added to your diet.

Lean Meats

Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and wild game are loaded with: 

  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • B vitamins
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorus
  • Choline

They are a healthier option compared to red and processed meats, which contain more fat and fewer nutrients per calorie serving.

Low-Fat and Fat-Free Dairy

Low-fat and fat-free dairy products contain several macronutrients and micronutrients. They include:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B12

Milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and kefir are some low-fat foods that belong to this category. If you have lactose food intolerance, you can switch to low-lactose and lactose-free alternatives.

Eggs

Whole eggs are nutritionally complete proteins. This means they contain all the essential amino acids. 

Eggs have every essential vitamin except vitamin C. They also provide a small number of minerals, including iron.

Lentils and Nuts

  • Lentils and nuts are nutrient-dense choices that are loaded with:
  • Healthy fats
  • Protein
  • Carbs
  • Folic acid
  • Thiamine
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Vitamin B6
  • Arginine
  • Lysine
  • Thiamine
  • Niacin

Some examples of these foods are almonds, beans, cashews, peas, pecans, and walnuts.

Can Nutrient Dense Foods Help You Lose Weight?

Most nutrient-dense foods are great for weight loss. They make it easier to reduce calories because they don’t leave you feeling unsatisfied.

There are two reasons why they can help with your weight:

High in water and fiber

Nutrient-dense foods (especially fruits and vegetables) contain plenty of water. They add volume or bulk to your meals but not calories.

For example, grapefruit is about 90 percent water. Half a grapefruit contains 64 calories. Raw, fresh carrots are about 88 percent water and contain 25 calories.

Nutrient-dense foods are also high in fiber. Fiber not only provides volume but also takes longer to digest. This means you feel full longer with fewer calories.

Packed with Protein

Many nutrient-dense foods are loaded with protein. Increasing the protein in your diet helps you to tame your hunger. They leave you feeling full longer and satisfy cravings. 

This is important when you eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet. These include low nutrient-dense foods and foods that have high calorie density.

If you choose to increase the protein in your diet, make sure you choose lean proteins such as turkey and chicken. Stay away from red meats and processed meats because they are high in fat and have less protein.

It’s also important for most people, including those who have liver or kidney disease, to speak to their doctor before increasing their protein intake.

Lose Weight By Eating More Nutrient Dense Foods

If you want to lose weight, Noom can help. It’s a psychology-based weight loss program that encourages you to eat more nutrient-dense foods.

Read our full review of Noom here.

Nutrient Dense Foods 2

Noom Weight Loss

What makes the Noom app truly special is that it doesn’t stop once you lost weight. By offering health coaching, peer support, and education, it establishes healthy habits which can last a lifetime.

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Kelly Jamrozy
Kelly Jamrozy
Content Contributor
Kelly has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including legal, medical, marketing, and travel. Her goal is to share important information that people can use to make decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. From choosing the best treatment programs to improving dental and vision health to finding the best method for helping anyone who is struggling with health issues, she hopes to share what she learns through informative content.
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