Sunday, December 28, 2014

What are Nutrient Dense Foods?

Everyone says to “eat healthy” but many people aren’t quite sure what this means.  To some it means Pop Tarts and Sunny D as these foods are “fortified” with vitamins.  But they are not really healthy foods as they are full of sugar, white flour and few nutrients.  Eating healthy means including nutrient dense foods in your daily diet.  Not exclusively, as we all like our treats.   But our meals and many of our snacks should be focused on nutrient dense foods.   The January 2015 edition of Environmental Health had an excellent article, Make your Diet More Nutrient-Dense.  The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics refers to these foods as nutrient-rich foods.
What are nutrient-rich or nutrient-dense foods?  These foods contain the most nutrients per calorie.  Usually they are the least processed foods and foods not diluted with a lot of added sugar or added fat.
What foods are considered nutrient-rich?
  • Whole grains - are rich in nutrients as the many vitamins and minerals haven’t been removed in processing.  Choose whole grain breads, cereals, crackers.
  • Fruits and Vegetables – fresh is best.  Vary the colors and look for dark greens like spinach, dark orange like carrots, red like red bell peppers.  Not only are vegetables and fruits full of vitamins and minerals they also are important sources of antioxidants which are so important to good health.  Some people avoid potatoes but you shouldn’t.  Avoid the tons of sour cream which is all fat, but don’t avoid the potato.     Sweet potatoes are especially nutritious and loaded with carotene (vitamin A).
  • Dairy – very nutrient dense, especially if you choose the low fat versions.  Low fat or skim milk, low fat yogurt, 2% cheeses.  Yogurt is full of probiotics, or healthy bacteria that have been found to have many health benefits.
  • Lean Meats, poultry, fish – many people think chicken is healthy but then eat fried chicken or give their kids chicken nuggets.  Fried foods are not healthy foods.  Lean chicken such as baked chicken is healthy, baked fish, not fried fish, is healthy.
  • Eggs – the American Heart Association has changed their recommendations on eggs.  They now say a healthy adult can enjoy an egg a day.
  • Nuts – a real super food as nuts are full of nutrients and heart healthy fat.  But a handful a day as they do have a lot of calories.     
Some substitutes suggested by Environmental Nutrition:  
      1.        Real Peanut Butter vs Low-fat Peanut butter – Less sugar and more heart healthy, monounsaturated fat. 
      2.       Nuts  vs potato chips – unless you are choose Sun Chips, choose a handful of nuts for vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein  
      3.       Whole grain crackers vs low-fat cookies     
      4.       Olive oil vinaigrette vs fat-free salad dressing – you need some fat to absorb the fat soluble vitamins in the salad and to absorb the antioxidants.  Olive oil is a heart healthy choice. 

Sources:   Choosing a Nutrient-Rich Diet, Make Your Diet More Nutrient-DenseEnvironmental Nutrition, Jan. 2015  Image source:  Nutrient Dense Foods

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