Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients present in a given volume of food. Nutrient-dense foods, or nutrient rich foods, are made up of lots of vitamins and minerals and generally consist of fewer calories. This is in contrast to the energy-dense foods that have more calories per volume of food.
A nutrient-rich diet is essential not only for a healthy body but getting vitamins and minerals through food also ensures their proper absorption in the body as opposed to taking supplements or making less nutrient-rich eating options. A diet that is deficient in micronutrients and high in calories contributes to weight gain and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The following are food groups that containing nutrient-rich choices:
Fruits and Vegetables
These five basic food groups provide the optimum categories to guide an individual when they are making their meal plans. Sticking to these groups gives the individual a good chance to choose from a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods and beverages from all groups.
Whole grains are low in fat and rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates. They help a person feel full for a longer period of time; therefore whole grains can help prevent people from overeating at a meal. Suggested intake of whole grains includes food options with at least three grams of fiber per serving. A few examples of nutrient-rich whole grains are rolled or steel cut oats, whole wheat pasta, whole grain crackers, breads or rolls made of whole wheat or rye, brown rice, barley, wild rice, whole corn, or whole wheat tortillas. Try baking with whole grain flours should instead of refined flours.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have the advantage of being naturally low in fat. When given the option, it is suggested that an individual choose colorful fruits and vegetables, especially dark green and orange vegetables because these are more dense with nutrients that other colored vegetables.
Organically grown produce tends to be healthier than standard produce because they are free of pesticides.
A few examples of nutrient-rich vegetables include leafy greens such as spinach, kale, cabbage, bok choy, and chard; romaine and darker green lettuces; broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts; carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, snap peas, green beans, peppers, and asparagus.
A few examples of nutrient-rich fruits include apples, plums, mangoes, papaya, pineapple, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, pomegranate, red or purple grapes, citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges, peaches, pears, melon, tomatoes, and avocados.
Technically, beans are botanically classified as a fruit; and in culinary terms they are considered a vegetable. They are singled out here because beans provide a nutrient-rich, non-meat source of protein. Legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans, soybeans, edamame, and lentils are all beans. Other examples of protein rich, non-meat foods include seeds and nuts, including nut butters.
Protein needs in the daily diet may be satisfied simply by adding a quarter-cup of beans, one tablespoon of peanut butter or a half ounce of nuts or seeds into any dish.
Skimmed milk, low fat milk, or enriched milk substitutes are the preferred nutrient-rich dairy products. A few examples of nutrient-rich dairy foods that are also low in fat include evaporated skim milk, low fat or fat free cheese, skim ricotta, plain non-fat yogurt, or low fat yogurt.
Choose skim milk, low-fat milk or enriched milk substitutes and try swapping evaporated skim milk for dairy ingredients like cream in recipes, soups, and sauces. Low fat or fat free cheeses should be used in place of regular cheese. Replace cream cheese with skim ricotta as a spread in desserts and dip recipes.
String cheese is a great low-fat, high-calcium snack option. Plain nonfat yogurt can replace sour cream in the majority of recipes that call for cream cheese. The texture of cream can be maintained by stirring one tablespoon of cornstarch into each cup of yogurt. Mixing frozen nonfat or low-fat yogurt with fruit provides an option for tasty desserts.
Fish is the best source of the omega 3 fatty acids, or healthy fatty acids. Examples of nutrient-rich fish are wild caught salmon and other oily fish; haddock and other white fish; wild caught tuna; shrimp, mussels, scallops, and lobster (without added fat).
When eating fish, ensure that fresh fish bought has a clear color, a moist look, a clean smell and firm, springy flesh. It is better to choose frozen or low salt canned fish if good-quality fresh fish is not available. The healthiest ways to prepare fish are to poach, steam, bake or broil it.
Among poultry products, chicken breasts are considered a good choice because they are low in fat and high in protein. Other examples include turkey bacon, and ground chicken or turkey. Remove the skin and visible fat before cooking chicken. The healthiest ways to prepare poultry are by baking, broiling or roasting it.
When choosing to eat beef or pork, it is advisable to choose low fat lean cuts of beef such as round or sirloin, and loin cuts or pork tenderloin and loin chops.
When preparing meat, the outside fat should be trimmed from low-fat, lean cuts of beef or pork before cooking them, and the healthiest ways to prepare meat are by broiling or roasting it. Limit the intake of beef, pork, veal and lamb in the diet because even lean cuts of meat contain a lot of fat and cholesterol when compared to other protein source options.
Nutrient-rich meals can be prepared by choosing nutrient rich foods and ingredients for the dishes.
It is recommended that an adult daily diet should include at least, on average:
• 3 to 6 ounces of whole grains
• 2 cups of fruit
• 2 ½ cups of vegetables
• 5 ½ ounces of protein
• 3 cups fat-free or low-fat dairy
It is suggested that a nutrient-dense meal should have one serving of a healthy protein source such as legumes, fish, poultry, or low-fat meat while the rest of the meal should be made up of healthy side dishes.
Vegetables are always a good choice, and whole-grain pastas, brown rice, and wild rice are also good additions to any meal. A green salad with lots of vegetables can serve the purpose of a nice nutrient-dense side dish or it can also be a great meal in itself. Clear soups with lots of vegetables should be chosen over cream soups which have more calories and are more energy-dense. In the rare instance when an individual is underweight, they may need some energy-dense foods to make sure that they get enough calories to gain weight. A few examples of healthy energy-dense foods include peanut butter, dried fruits, starchy vegetables, and cheese.
To eat the nutrient-rich way, an individual should eat a diet that is 90 percent or more plant-based.
Eat Right to Stay Healthy
Foods can affect a person’s health in a significant way. In order to eat right, an individual needs to build their daily eating plan based on the principle of consuming a variety of nutrient-rich foods.
Eating right helps an individual have more energy, be more productive, and stay healthy. Incorporating nutrition rich foods from among the five food groups in the daily diet gives an individual a long-term well-balanced and healthier way to eat. Eating nutrient-dense foods will ensure that an individual is getting all the nutrition they need and also prevents weight gain. Start exploring the nutrient-rich way of eating now, and it will soon become second nature.