Last year I was introduced to the concept of nutrient density after reading Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. The idea is that our overall health can be predicted (relatively speaking) by our nutrient intake divided by our caloric intake. Stick with me here, it isn't as complicated as it sounds!
We love to talk/worry/obsess about the caloric elements of our food (carbs! fat! protein!), but here's the thing... all food has that stuff. All of it. Whether you're eating straight from the garden or straight from the drive-thru, you're going to get the macronutrients (energy) you need to keep your body moving.
Noncaloric nutrients are a different story, and they're getting harder to find in this processed world we're living in. The vitamins, minerals, fibers and phytochemicals that our bodies need to thrive are not guaranteed for us in everything we eat. These micronutrients literally give life to our cells, boosting our immunity and fighting chronic disease by ushering out the toxins that threaten our wellness.
I'm not talking about the orange powdered fiber that you stir into a glass of water or the vitamins you'll find in a pill! If you want the maximum benefit from the nutrients you need, it's best to consume them in the form of whole, unrefined plant foods as often as possible. The good news is that it's easy (and delicious!) to do so.
|Sample Nutrient/Calorie Density Scores|
|Collard Greens||1000||Kidney Beans||64|
|Mustard Greens||1000||Green Peas||63|
|Brussels Sprouts||490||Pistachio Nuts||37|
|Mushrooms||238||Whole Wheat Bread||30|
|Sweet Potato||181||Brown Rice||28|
|Artichoke||145||Low Fat Plain Yogurt||28|
|Iceburg Lettuce||127||Chicken Breast||24|
|Grapes||119||Ground Beef, 85% lean||21|
|Flax Seeds||103||French Fries||12|
|Tofu||82||Vanilla Ice Cream||9|
|Sesame Seeds||74||Corn Chips||7|
Dr. Fuhrman created the Aggregrate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) to help identify the most nutrient dense foods available. Over thirty nutrients were considered, and equal-calorie portions were measured in micronutrients per calorie. Fuhrman advises that his patients strive to eat a wide variety of these foods, and as many above the 100 score as possible.
Your portion sizes will likely change a bit since those nutrient dense items tend to be lower in calories, so pile your plates high with that high scoring food!