You may be hearing this term more often—and, if so, this post can help. We’ll define “nutrient density,” break it down in easy-to-understand ways, and much more.
Laying the Foundation
“Nutrient density,” explains Dr. Amy Sapola, “considers the amount of beneficial nutrients—such as vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—in a food versus the number of calories.”
So, why are nutrients more important than calories?
Vitamins and minerals are important for nearly every function within your body, supporting a healthy immune system, reproduction, bone health, energy, mood, and much more.
Phytonutrients are naturally occurring substances that contribute to a plant's color and taste. They act as the plant's immune system, helping to protect the plant from disease, pests, and excessive sun. In the human body, phytonutrients are best known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. When you include a variety of colors of plant-based foods into your diet, this is a great way to increase the number of phytonutrients you consume. In other words, think about eating the rainbow.
Fiber, although not considered an “essential nutrient,” is important when talking about nutrient density because of the vast array of benefits that fiber provides. Fiber is often overlooked and underappreciated for its importance in health and wellbeing, so we’ll highlight the two categories here: soluble versus insoluble.
This distinction lets you know whether the fiber will dissolve in water. After consuming soluble fiber, you may feel fuller, and this may help to balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels by slowing down the absorption of sugars and fats following a meal. The best part about soluble fiber: it helps to feed the beneficial bacteria that live in your digestive tract, which helps to support a healthy microbiome. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber adds bulk and supports regular bowel movements.
Calories Do NOT Equal Nutrients
It’s entirely possible to consume enough calories to support your energy needs without getting enough vitamins, minerals, and/or phytonutrients. You might hear this described as eating “empty calories.”
Contrast this to plant-based foods, which are typically high in nutrients yet lower in calories. When you enjoy plant-based foods, you can switch from the traditional diet mentality where there is a constant preoccupation with calories to a mindset that considers the food as a whole. This allows you to switch from being in your head (counting calories) to being in your body, tuning into your senses, allowing yourself to experience the colors, smells, and tastes of what you’re about to eat.
This not only leads to more enjoyment of food and a better relationship with food but allows you to begin to trust your own innate wisdom. With a little practice, you will quickly be able to discern the difference between a lackluster tomato and one that is freshly harvested or lettuce that is the lightest shade of green versus that which is a dark vibrant green or purple color. Without any special tools or training, you can easily identify foods that are more nutrient dense and will provide more nourishment for your body just by using your senses.
Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden®
Our mission is to provide you with the most nutrient dense, beautiful, unique, colorful, fresh vegetables that are grown in healthy soil. Through our regenerative farming practices, on-site nutrient testing laboratory, and love of vegetables and farming, we promise to provide you with high quality produce picked at the peak of ripeness to deliver optimal nutrition and flavor to your door.