Nutrient-dense eating. What is it?
As a registered dietitian, I am constantly asked how people can eat healthier. While there are many health concerns among families, one of the most important elements of living a nutritious and healthy lifestyle is often overlooked. Rather than focusing on things like calorie counting and fat consumption, what we should really be concerned with is incorporating wholesome foods into our diets with ingredients that are nourishing and enjoyable. It’s important to love the food we’re eating so that we can sustain a healthy lifestyle long term for ourselves and our families.
We are also seeing healthy substitutions soaring in popularity right now which can feel overwhelming. For example, almond flour is sometimes used as a substitution for regular flour which is likely good to cut calories and fat. However, the reality is it can also be more costly which is often not an option for many families. So, how can we increase our nutrient intake in an affordable way that is attainable for most families? What I encourage families to do is to focus on what I call nutrient-dense eating. This approach focuses on adding foods to the meals we already love that have the most nutrients for the least amount of calories. By simply incorporating nutrient-dense foods into our diets, we can address most health concerns for the entire family. Adequate nutrient intake supports proper functioning of all the body systems, including the respiratory, digestive, reproductive, and nervous systems.
So what does this really mean? Nutrient-dense eating allows us to focus on vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional benefits besides calories. This positions us to think about the good on our plates instead of the bad. Get creative! Take your favorite meals and transform them into something healthier while still remaining delicious. For those of us who want to shed a few pounds, nutrient-dense eating can also assist in weight loss! Eating foods high in fiber and other nutrients will help you stay full longer and snack less.
I love this way of eating because it allows families to enjoy the foods they love without compromising nutritional value. A great example of this is macaroni and cheese. I mean, who doesn’t love that sticky, cheesy goodness?! A simple twist of adding something like broccoli to any mac and cheese recipe is an easy and creative way to incorporate fiber, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals onto our plates without denying kids that cheesy goodness they crave. The reason fiber is an important thing to get into your family’s diet is it lowers cholesterol, increases the feeling of fullness, and is also great for overall bowel health. Calcium is also key in our diets as it supports strong and healthy bones.
It’s so important that we create and maintain a balanced and healthy relationship with food and teach this to our children to eliminate issues for them later in life. Nutrient-dense eating allows us to enjoy our favorite foods without the guilt and eliminates the stress we sometimes feel when out to lunch or at the dinner table. This stress may come from the pressure to eat healthy on a budget or not knowing the healthiest options to choose for ourselves and our families. By introducing our children to nutrient-dense foods early on, we can encourage them to make healthy decisions that nourish their bodies AND satisfy their taste buds.
So now I challenge you to make a nutrient-dense version of your staple foods or favorite meals and share them with me. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. You’re going to love it!
TIP: ADD VEGETABLES TO ANY MEAL FOR NUTRIENT-DENSITY
My favorite way to achieve nutrient-density in a meal is to add vegetables. Here are some great options along with some nutritional benefits that each vegetable adds to your plate:
- Broccoli is a great source of vitamin A which supports healthy vision, bone health, and immune function. It’s the perfect addition to mac and cheese, omelets, and quesadillas!
- Carrots contain beta-carotene which protects the skin and eyes. It also helps our immune systems function properly. I love adding carrots to muffins, soups, and pasta sauces!
- Peas are an excellent source of potassium. Potassium maintains fluid and electrolyte balance in the body and also lowers blood pressure. Peas work great in soups, pasta dishes, and meatballs!
(Note that these are only three examples. Adding any vegetable to your plate will always add nutrients!)