What is nutrient density and why is it so important?

Like anything involving “density,” “ nutrient density” means how much you get of one thing, given the presence of something else. In the case of nutrient density, the “things” you receive, the nutrients, are analyzed in relationship to how much they "cost" you, in terms of calories. Simply stated, nutrient density means how many nutrients you get from a food, given the number of calories it contains. Nutrient density is a simple way to connect nutrients with calories.

More nutrients for less calories

Nutrient dense foods give you the most nutrients for the fewest amount of calories. In other words, nutrient dense foods give you the “biggest bang for the buck.” You get lots of nutrients, and it doesn’t cost you much in terms of calories.

Nutrient density is the exact principle we used when we rated all of 127 foods found on the World’s Healthiest Foods website. The World’s Healthiest Foods give you the biggest bang for your buck. They give you the most nutrients possible for the least amount of calories.

Eating nutrient dense foods is one of the healthiest ways to eat

Eating nutrient dense foods like the World’s Healthiest Foods is one of the healthiest ways that anyone can eat. No principle is more likely to support healthy eating than the principle of nutrient density. Why is nutrient density so helpful? Because it gives you concentrated amount of valuable nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients, to name a few.

Nutrient density – an example

Let’s take a quick example. Let’s say you’re low on vitamin E, and decide to eat a food that is not nutrient dense. A slice of run-of-the-mill white bread will give you about 1/10th of a milligram of vitamin E. This 1/10th of a milligram will cost you about 200 calories (the number of calories in a slice of many white breads). Compare this number and amount to a slice of 100% whole wheat bread.

Whole grain products, like most whole foods, are nutrient dense. A slice of 100% whole wheat bread will usually cost you slightly less in calories (perhaps 175 instead of 200) because many manufacturers will assume that consumers buying 100% whole wheat products will also want fewer additives, sweeteners, or added fat in their foods (which can provide extra calories).

Even if the calories were the same in both types of bread, the vitamin E content would be dramatically different. Instead of getting only 1/10th of a milligram of vitamin E in exchange for your 175-200 calories, with 100% whole grain bread, you get over 1.16 milligrams - over ten times as much. Or, to put it somewhat differently, you would have to eat more than ten slices of run-of-the-mill white bread to get the same amount of vitamin E as is found in one slice of 100% whole wheat bread. The extra 9 slices will cost you about 1,800 calories.

Getting your nutrients from nutrient dense foods is clearly the way to go! Why? Because in this example, it saves you about 1,800 calories! 1,800 calories is about one whole day’s worth of food.

Practical tips

No foods are more nutrient dense than whole, organically-grown foods. The reason is simple: nothing is contained in a fresh, whole organic food that doesn’t need to be there. That’s why we’ve picked whole, organically-grown foods as the World’s Healthiest Foods. Everything you need to stay optimally nourished is right there, packaged in its lowest calorie form. We've created delicious, simple to prepare recipes that feature these whole, organically grown foods. Try the recipes or make up your own using the World's Healthiest Foods, since these foods are your best connection to nutrient density, and nutrient density is your best bet for a healthy way of eating.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-18 21:35:39
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation