Eat Your Way Fit With Nutrient-Dense Foods
The Benefits of Nutrient Density Instead of Diet for Weight Management
Going on a diet can feel overwhelming and the results typically unsatisfying. Diets and diet trends are a billion-dollar market targeting consumers who want to lose fat and gain muscle. Many diets also lack nutrients, according to research.
Have you considered not dieting? Instead of continued caloric restriction leaving you hungry, tired, and frustrated, maybe a different approach would be better.
How about trying nutrient-dense foods as an alternative to reduce body fat? This is not a diet but simply a change in the kind of food you eat to achieve a healthy body. The idea is to eat cleaner, not less, as a lifestyle.
Eating nutrient-dense foods even allows you to eat more and still lose fat. This is often hard to grasp for long-term dieters used to severe calorie restriction for reducing fat. The difference is the quality of nutrient-dense foods vs the calories and how they function in our body.
What Are Nutrient Dense Foods?
Nutrient-dense foods contain macro and micronutrients important for our health. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats providing calories (energy) to our body. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals also coming from nutrient-rich foods. We require all nutrients in varying quantities for optimal fitness. Research indicates nutrient-rich foods help boost our metabolism and enable us to efficiently lose body fat.
Protein is the powerhouse macronutrient for muscle recovery. Select healthier options like chicken breast, turkey, fish, or albacore tuna over processed cold cuts or ham. Eating nutrient-dense protein means keeping it cleaner and leaner.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source macronutrient for optimal health and fitness. Nutrient-dense carbs include a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Avoid eating processed foods, white products and pastries if you want to lose fat and gain muscle.
Fats are the secondary energy source macronutrient for optimal body functioning. Keep your fats nutrient-rich by avoiding saturated fast foods, creamy salad dressings, and cheesy casseroles. Opt for extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, and natural peanut butter to boost your metabolism and lose body fat.
How Do They Reduce Body Fat?
Nutrient-dense foods are high in nutrients and low in calories allowing us to eat cleaner not less to reduce body fat. Superfoods or real foods are also common names for nutrient-dense foods. They’re easily digested and nutrients utilized for proper body functioning. Chronic studies indicate eating nutrient-dense foods as an effective and healthy way to lose weight.
Research shows optimal body fat levels are better achieved when we focus on food quality rather than calorie counting. This is more of a statement of how nutrient-dense foods are full of essential nutrients but lower in calorie. We can eat more for lesser calories and feel satisfied throughout the day.
In order to lose body fat, our body requires adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Eating nutrient-dense foods stimulates our metabolism and creates a fat-burning machine. Our body functions better supplied with the energy required to burn fat and gain muscle.
Nutrient-dense foods help reduce body fat through several functions:
Provides the necessary antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other essential nutrients for optimal body functioning.
Increases our metabolism and stimulates the body to effectively burn body fat.
Balanced nutrients maintain our energy level for improved workouts.
Proper nutrient amounts help regulate blood sugar favoring normal values instead of spiked glucose (sugar). Controlling our blood sugar is essential to reducing body fat.
Promotes satiety and curbs cravings.
Improves leptin hormone function in the body and better regulates fat stores.
Research is an important step to obtain evidence that supports or opposes scientific claims. Many diets are flooding the market with grandiose promises but without positive clinical findings to back it up. Unfortunately, many of us fail to take the time to research the facts before trying the next diet trend.
Chronic studies on nutrient-dense foods show positive feedback for fat loss. They’re high antioxidant values are indicated to reduce the risk of disease and hypertension. Research shows nutrient rich foods as an effective way to reduce body fat and improve overall health.
An article published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compares nutrient intake and links to obesity. A large study group was divided by body mass index (BMI) levels ranging from normal weight, overweight and obese. The research indicated those participants who were overweight or obese had low intakes of micronutrients and high nutrient deficiencies. The normal weight group consumed a regular menu of nutrient-dense foods.
Other research on using nutrient-dense foods to break the cycle of obesity appears in the National Institutes of Health. A workshop was conducted examining improved quality of life and health at every age eating nutrient-dense foods as preventative medicine. It was indicated using the nutrient density approach as a valuable nutritional education tool. It was explained eating nutrient dense foods could help resolve nutrient deficiencies and decrease the risk of being overfat or obese.
Another study published in the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine examined the effects of nutrient-dense foods on long-term weight loss. Research participants were seeking dietary counseling to lose weight. The trial included a high nutrient density meal plan with recipes for each volunteer. The patients were followed for a two-year period recording total weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. Some participants dropped out but those 33 continuing after one year lost an average of 31 pounds. Nineteen patients returned for the two-year follow-up and each lost an average of 53 pounds. Significant decreases in cholesterol and improved blood pressure were also recorded.
The common thread with all research feedback is nutrient-dense foods have the “potential to provide sustainable, significant, long-term weight loss.” Additionally, nutrient rich foods are shown to improve cholesterol, blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Eating nutrient-dense foods as a lifestyle appears to greatly reduce body fat and improve our health in general.
Are Some Nutrient Dense Foods Better Than Others?
National nutrition guidelines recommend eating nutrient-dense foods to help reduce chronic disease and obesity. An article published in the Journal of Nutrition recommends a science-based nutrition profiling system assigning a nutrient value per food.
A study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a classification scheme for powerhouse fruits and vegetables. Powerhouse foods are described as those helping reduce the risk of chronic disease. So, yes there will be foods higher in nutrient value than others.
Nutrient-dense foods with a value greater than 10 are considered powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFV) according to the study. The following PFV value system is provided to improve our understanding and health benefits of nutrient-dense foods:
Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables Value System
Nutrient Density Score
Food Nutrient Density Score
Watercress 100 Scallion 27.35
Chinese cabbage 91.99 Kohlrabi 25.92
Chard 89.27 Cauliflower 25.13
Beet green 87.08 Cabbage 24.51
Spinach 86.43 Carrot 22.60
Chicory 73.36 Tomato 20.37
Leaf lettuce 70.73 Lemon 18.72
Parsley 65.59 Iceberg lettuce 18.28
Romaine lettuce 63.48 Strawberry 17.59
Collard green 62.49 Radish 16.91
Turnip green 62.12 Winter squash 13.89
Mustard green 61.39 Orange 12.91
Endive 60.44 Lime 12.23
Chive 54.80 Grapefruit (pink/red) 11.64
Kale 49.07 Rutabaga 11.58
Dandelion green 46.34 Turnip 11.43
Red pepper 41.26 Blackberry 11.39
Arugula 37.65 Leek 10.69
Broccoli 34.89 Sweet potato 10.51
Pumpkin 33.82 Grapefruit (white) 10.47
Brussels sprout 32.23
nutrient density calculated as average percent daily value based on a 2,000 kcal/d diet, meeting criteria for 17 nutrients as provided by 100 kcal of food. Scores above 100 were capped at 100 meaning the food provides on average 100% DV of the qualifying nutrients per 100 kcal.
Another highly referenced nutrient density chart was developed by nutrition expert and board-certified physician Dr. Joel Fuhrman. He believes your health is directly related to the nutrient density of your diet. Fuhrman created the aggregate nutrient density index (ANDI). The ANDI ranks common foods “on the basis of how many nutrients they deliver to your body for each calorie consumed.”
Dr. Fuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)
Sample Nutrient Calorie Density Score Sample Nutrient Calorie Density Score
Kale 1000 Sunflower 64
Collard Greens 1000 Kidney Beans 64
Mustard Greens 1000 Green Peas 63
Watercress 1000 Cherries 55
Swiss Chard 895 Pineapple 54
Bok Choy 865 Apple 53
Spinach 707 Mango 53
Arugula 604 Peanut Butter 51
Romaine 510 Corn 45
Brussels Sprouts 490 Pistachio Nuts 37
Carrots 458 Oatmeal 36
Cabbage 434 Shrimp 36
Broccoli 340 Salmon 34
Cauliflower 315 Eggs 31
Bell Peppers 265 Milk, 1% 31
Asparagus 245 Walnuts 30
Mushrooms 238 Bananas 30
Tomato 186 Whole Wheat Bread 30
Strawberries 182 Almonds 28
Sweet Potato 181 Avocado 28
Zucchini 164 Brown Rice 28
Artichoke 145 White Potato 28
Blueberries 132 Plain Yogurt, Low Fat 28
Iceberg Lettuce 127 Cashews 27
Grapes 119 Chicken Breast 24
Pomegranates 119 Ground Beef, 85% lean 21
Cantaloupe 118 Feta Cheese 20
Onions 109 French Fries 12
Flax Seeds 103 White Pasta 11
Orange 98 Cheddar Cheese 11
Edamame 98 Apple Juice 11
Cucumber 87 Olive Oil 10
Tofu 82 White Bread 9
Sesame Seeds 74 Vanilla Ice Cream 9
Lentils 72 Corn Chips 7
Peaches 65 Cola 1
Many diets lack nutrients only certain foods can provide. Eating nutrient-dense foods will allow you to skip the diet, eat more, and still lose fat.
Health and Wellness Associates
Dir. Of Personalize Healthcare and Preventative Medicine