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A Guide to Nutrient Density

By Lara Hamilton RDN, CDE

Choosing the right foods to meet your nutrition needs can be challenging, as we need the right mixture of fruits, vegetables, proteins, healthy fats and grains to develop a wholesome, balanced diet. Choosing foods that are nutrient dense can help you achieve this optimal balance, while providing you with a variety of options for healthy meals and snacks.

What is nutrient density?

Nutrient density refers to the nutrients you receive from food in relation to how many calories are present.  In other words, nutrient-dense foods provide your body with the most nutrients for the fewest amount of calories. Foods can be scored and ranked in terms of nutrient density, with higher scores indicating more beneficial nutrients.

Benefits of nutrient dense foods

Opting for nutrient-dense foods more often will help you develop a healthy diet and lifestyle, while cutting calories in the process.  There are a variety of beneficial nutrients found in nutrient dense foods, including fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins A and C and iron. Such components help your body fight illness, reduce heart disease, stabilize blood sugars, lower cholesterol and aid in cell growth and oxygen transport. In addition, the calories found in nutrient dense foods are great for creating long lasting energy and keeping your body in good working order.

What foods are the most nutrient dense?

Nutrient dense foods can easily be found in your local grocery store, as many simple fruits and veggies contain an abundance of beneficial nutrients. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, try introducing the following foods into your diet:

  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Salmon

How to incorporate nutrient-dense foods into your diet

Changing your approach to meals and snacks by gradually increasing your consumption of nutrient-rich foods can make a world of difference.  A goal is to try to make half your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner.  A great way to incorporate nutrient dense foods into your diet is by finding healthy foods that you enjoy and researching multiple recipes for a combination of meals to try.  Try roasting or grilling vegetables for added flavor or have a side of raw carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers with hummus or guacamole as a dip.  You might find the more vegetables you eat, the more your body will start to crave.

When choosing foods, make sure to find a balance between the five basic food groups (whole-grains, meat or meat substitutes, milk and dairy products, fruits and vegetables) and find recipes that are healthy, and delicious. Try incorporating fruit into desserts for a nutrient-dense sweet treat. Berry Crisps topped with oats and honey, fruit parfaits with yogurt, berries and some slivered almonds or smoothies made with spinach, banana and frozen fruit can be a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth naturally while obtaining a handful of nutrient dense foods.

When it comes to diet, balance and nutrition are everything, and providing your body with the nutrients it needs to work properly can be both delicious and rewarding.

Please visit our Nutrition Services page to learn more about how to maintain a healthy diet, or to schedule an appointment with one of our dietitians.

Topics and Subtopics: General Health & Diet & Nutrition

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