Shift Your Food Paradigm: Focus on Nutrient Density

This time of year brings about many changes in our food environment. Our resources change because summer gardening is over. Farmer’s markets close for the season. We are more drawn to warm foods as the weather cools. The holidays are just around the corner and we are probably already thinking about all the food preparation we’ll need to do. I don’t know about you, but these shifts cause me to think about food (more than I usually do!) and its value from a nutrient perspective.

I’d like to invite you to put all other factors about food aside:  cost, planning, eating too much or too little, whether a food is healthy or not, etc. For just a moment, ponder nutrient density.

Nutrient dense foods provide our bodies with the vital nutrients necessary for optimal function. In a perfect world, we would eat the foods with the highest amount of nutrients and the lowest number of calories. Because, let’s face it, trying to get all of our nutrient needs met with most of the foods available today would likely cause us to gain a lot of excess weight.

Be thinking about foods in terms of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, etc. These are the foods at the foundation of good health, disease prevention, and longevity. The opposite of those foods are nutrient “poor” foods – most of which people are consuming these days.

How do you know if a food is nutrient-rich or nutrient-poor? This is where the fun starts – you can calculate it!!!! There is probably a fancy formula somewhere that calculates all of a food’s nutrients and gives a rating of its overall nutrition value, but for the ease of our purpose we are going to compare just one nutrient at a time.

Let’s calculate and compare the nutrient density of vitamin C in broccoli and a slice of bread. There are 123 mg of vitamin C in 1 cup of cooked broccoli. There are 44 calories in a cup of cooked broccoli. Divide 123 by 44 and you get a score of 2.8.

A 28 g slice of “unnamed brand” bread has 0 grams of vitamin C and about 65 calories. Since you can’t divide 0, you get a score of 0.

Make sense? You can have fun trying this with any food and any nutrient. The broccoli vs bread example above has the following nutrient comparisons:

Fiber – broccoli 5.5 g /44 = .125 vs bread 2 g/65 = .03
Folate – broccoli 103 mcg/44 = 2.34 vs bread 29 mcg/65 = .446

You get the idea. Now which food will you eat to optimize your body?! You no longer have to be mislead by food labels or confused about internet nutrition content. You have the formula.


In health,

Kari Collett, RDN, LDN, CLT and food lover

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