Pick up a nutrient-dense apple instead of a cookie to satisfy your snack attack.

Nutrient Dense Vs. Non-Nutrient Dense

by Stephanie Chandler

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 60 percent of women are overweight. Even more disturbing, about one-third of overweight women are classified as obese, meaning their body mass index is greater than 30. Obesity increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Fight obesity and avoid becoming overweight by choosing nutrient-dense foods over non-nutrient dense foods.

1. Nutrient Density

Nutrient density is the measure of the nutrients in a food in relation to the calories. Foods contain different combinations of nutrients, but a food that provides more key nutrients than calories is considered nutrient-dense. A study published in 2009 in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition” lists the key nutrients used to factor nutrient density as protein; fiber; vitamins A, C, D, E and B-12; thiamine; riboflavin; folate; calcium; iron; potassium; and zinc.

2. Non-Nutrient-Dense Foods

The American family lifestyle often interferes with making smart food choices. Busy families spend more time in the car, which leads to eating more meals on the run. Because of this, you may find yourself choosing convenient foods at mealtime over nutritious foods. Unfortunately those inexpensive, quick foods are filled with calories that provide energy, but lack nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber. Nutritionists classify these foods as non-nutrient-dense foods. Non-nutrient-dense foods are also called energy-dense foods because they provide more calories than they do nutrients.

3. Calorie Balance

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 stresses the importance of eating a diet that meets your nutrient needs while maintaining a calorie balance. Calorie balance means the amount of calories you consume is equal to the number of calories you expend each day. Calorie balance is the only way to maintain your weight. Eating non-nutrient-dense foods supplies calories but few nutrients, so your body craves additional foods to meet your nutrient needs. This leads to eating more calories than you expend, which causes weight gain. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods meets your nutrient requirements within your calorie needs.

4. Food Choices

Each of the major food groups includes nutrient-dense food choices. For proteins, choose lean meats, fish or beans over high-fat meat cuts. In the dairy food group choose low-fat dairy products, like skim milk over ice cream. Ice cream may contain calcium, but it also provides more fat and sugar, decreasing the nutrient density. Brightly colored fruits and vibrant dark green, red or orange vegetables are all considered nutrient dense. In the grain group, the lighter colored foods like white bread, white rice and bleached pasta are less nutrient dense than their whole-grain counterparts. When reaching for an afternoon snack, remember the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 5 to 15 percent of your daily calories come added fats and sugars, which are found in foods like soda and baked goods.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images