NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Choose Nutrient Dense

Choose Nutrient Dense


               Even Americans do not always choose the healthiest foods, we generally have good intentions when it comes to the foods we consume.  One phrase that is in the news recently is, “nutrient dense”.

               Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients in a food compared to the number of calories in that same food. Nutrient dense foods have more nutrients per calorie than foods that are not nutrient dense. Nutrient dense foods contain a small portion of their calories from fat, sugar or refined grains and have more vitamins, minerals and protein.

               Why is nutrient dense an important factor in foodsL We all need a certain amount of caloires and nutreints each day in order to be healthy. The amount of calories and nutrients needed are based on our age, gender, activity level and how healthy we are.  If we consume too many foods high in fat and sugar, it is easy to go over the amount of calories we need and at the same time not consume the nutrients we need to keep us healthy.  Of course, when we consume more calories than we need, our bodies store the extra calories as fat – which leads to being overweight or even obese.

               How do you know if a food is nutrient dense? Nutrient dense foods have:

               -Few added solid fats, such as butter, margarine shortening or lard.

               - Little added sugar

               - Little added refined starch as found in white bread

               - Little added sodium from salt and preservatives commonly used in ready-to-eat meals.

               - Naturally occurring components such as fiber still present in the food, that is, these compounds have not been removed by processing.

               Fruits, vegetables, fat-free milk, leanmeats, and whole grains are nutrient dense.

               Candy, pastries, chips, bacon and sugar-sweetened beverages are less nutrient dense. These foods contain added sugar, solid fats and refined starch and they provide few essential nutrients.

               If you have a choice between an orange or two oatmeal cookies for a snack, consider the nutrient density of the two products. An orange contains 4 calories, has no fat and little sugar, but lots of vitamins C and A and about 8 grams of fiber. The oatmeal cookies contain about five times as many calories at 224 calories as the orange, more fat and sugar, no vitamin C and small amounts of vitamin A and fiber making the orange more nutrient dense.

               Choosing nutrient dense beverages is also important. Many of us try to reduce the amount of calories in the food we eat but we forget that beverages are also a source of calories and they contribute to the amount of calories we eat each and every day. The calories in beverages can really add up quickly. Remember these tips for choosing nutrient dense drinks.

-          Choose water first. Drink water throughout the day. Serve water with meals. Keep water in the frig so it is cool and ready to grab.

-          Choose low-fat or no-fat milk instead of sugar sweetened beverages.

-          Drink diet or low-calorie beverages instead of sugar –sweetened beverages.

-          Watch your portion sizes. Choose smaller portions of your favorite drinks.

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