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Nutrient Density vs. Calorie Density

Posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 at 1:00 pm under Eat Well.

When you are deciding what foods to include in your diet, you want the majority of those foods to be nutrient dense – full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and essential compounds that your body cannot manufacture on its own.

Nutrient density refers to the ratio of nutrients compared to energy in a particular food. A vegetable like kale is jam packed with nutrients, and a cup of kale is only 36 calories. It packs 5g of fiber and loads of antioxidants. Healthy foods have a high nutrient to calorie ratio.

Calorie density is just the opposite. These foods are higher in fats and/or sugars and are typically devoid of nutrients. Processed foods are a prime example of calorie density.

Where do you find these nutrient rich foods? Vegetables, fruits,eggs, meats, nuts, seeds, and dairy products are all rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and phytochemicals. Eat these foods in their natural state to obtain the most nutrients. You will typically find these foods along the outer ring of your grocery story.

Calorie dense foods are not necessarily bad foods, but you want to limit your intake of calorie dense foods. Why? It is easy to eat a lot of small sized, yet high calorie, foods. Take at look at this infographic for an idea of what I mean:

 You can see that some foods are extremely high in calories, and are only bite-sized. It can be very easy to over eat on foods like this, so fill up with the nutrient dense foods and handle the calorie dense foods like a treat.

If you need a snack, choose something that is made from superior sources, like chia seeds, and that aren’t loaded down with preservatives, sugar, and trans fats. Of course, LesserEvil provides plenty of great snack options.

What are your favorite healthy snack options? Share in the comments!

  • Victoria Dossey Findley

    always have lots of fresh veggies & fruits for snacking… as well as the beloved LesserEvil snacks..  apples & celery with peanut butter… cucumbers & humus… good for all sizes…:-)

    • danielkreger

      Victoria, I am a huge fan of celery and carrots and peanut butter…or almond butter! It’s always fun to change up the kind of nut butter and veg!