Nutrient Dense: How to Get Smart about Nutrition

In recent years, nutritional density has become something of a buzz phrase

No, nutritional density doesn't measure your level of cluelessness when it comes to vitamins and minerals. It refers to foods that pack lots of fiber and nutrients while remaining fairly low in calories.

This basically includes all the usual suspects: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, tofu, and other fare that's loaded with things we want to put in our bodies.

Nutritionally dense foods naturally tend to be light on all the stuff that most of us are trying to avoid, such as saturated fats, cholesterol, lots of sodium, etc. In other words, they're the opposite of empty calories.

So obviously we're supposed to be eating nutrient dense foods. The question is how can we work the recommended amounts of fruits and veggies into our diets on a daily basis.

Many parents try to sneak healthy foods into kids' diets. CNN conducted an interview with a panel of nutritionists so that adults can do the same with their diets. They've posted a slew of tips on how anyone can tweak their diets to raise their nutritional profiles. You can also find a comprehensive overview of nutritional density at the the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website.

I'd come across some of their suggestions before. For instance, opt for fresh fruits rather than their dried counterparts because the higher water content of fresh fruits causes us to feel fuller more quickly. But I didn't know that canned fruit is almost as healthy as fresh fruit -- as long as it isn't packed in heavy syrup.

Here are a couple easy-to-remember tips to increase your nutrient density:

  • Naturally fat-free foods are great choices, but fat-free baked goods are not. They aren't nutrient-dense because they typically replace fat with sugar.
  • Peanut butter is loaded with omega-3s and other nutrients, making it a healthier topping than cream cheese for your bagel.
  • Use colors to plan your meals, and aim for four colors whenever possible. This means, add tomato and lettuce to your ham sandwich. Top apples with cashew butter. Rather than a green salad, hit a salad bar and add on carrots, red peppers, cauliflower, and sunflower seeds.

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