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Sarah M Brandt
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Sarah M Brandt

Research suggests that the standard American diet is energy rich but nutrient poor.

When it comes to food, energy means calories. You may have heard the term "empty calories," which means a food provides calories but very few nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods are rich in various nutrients but relatively low in calories.

What are nutrients?

There are six essential nutrients our bodies need: 

  • carbohydrates
  • fats
  • proteins
  • vitamins
  • minerals 
  • water

These nutrients fall into two different categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Protein, carbohydrate and fat are macronutrients. Our bodies require macronutrients in large amounts and they provide our bodies with energy.

Micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, are compounds our bodies need in smaller amounts for normal physiological function. Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other functions. Meanwhile, minerals play an important role in growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes.

Nutrient-dense foods

Nutrient-dense foods contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats. Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meat, beans, nuts and seeds are all great examples of nutrient-dense foods. By choosing more nutrient-dense foods, you’ll get the beneficial nutrients your body needs without consuming too many calories.

Get more nutritional value from your food:

Instead of

Replace with
White riceBrown rice
Sugary cerealOatmeal with fruit or whole wheat cereal
Sour cream/cream cheeseGreek yogurt
Sweet desserts ( candy, cookies, cake, brownies, etc.)Bowl of fruit
Doughnuts/pastriesWhole grain bagel or whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter or homemade jam
Chips, pretzelsCrunchy vegetables or nuts
MayoHummus or avocado spreads
Sugary beveragesPlain water or water infused with cucumber, lemon, strawberry (whatever fruit/vegetable you like)

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