In This Article
In This Article
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.
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:
Meanwhile, foods that have more sugar, sodium, and saturated fats per 100 calories are ranked lower in the index.
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.
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 are rich in water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Examples include:
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 grain foods contain fiber, amino acids, minerals, and B vitamins. Some whole grains are:
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.
Seafood like fish, shrimp, and shellfish are rich in:
Unless you are allergic to them, they are fairly nutritious foods that can be added to your diet.
Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and wild game are loaded with:
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 products contain several macronutrients and micronutrients. They include:
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.
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.
Some examples of these foods are almonds, beans, cashews, peas, pecans, and walnuts.
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:
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.
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.