LiveWell with Traditions The Importance of Nutrient-Dense Foods For Your Health

The Importance of Nutrient-Dense Foods For Your Health

Consuming nutrient-dense foods is one of the most effective ways to stay healthy. You need nutrients—every human, as do all plants and animals. Nutrients ensure that our bodies work properly; a nutrient deficiency can cause health problems. 

What are nutrients?

Nutrients are chemical substances that organisms rely on for nourishment. You’re likely familiar with carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and protein. Those are nutrients found in the foods we eat. 

You need nutrients not just to live, but to live a healthy life. Here is a quick guide to the nutrients you need to consume every day to maintain good health and why choosing nutrient-dense foods is good for you:

  • Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates become energy when they’re metabolized. This energy is necessary for all physical and mental activity. Carbohydrates can be found in whole grains, vegetables, low-fat dairy, fruits, and legumes. 
  • Fats. Similar to carbohydrates, fats give you energy. Fats also promote feelings of satiety, or fullness, after a meal. Beyond creating energy, fats promote healthy cell function and the absorption of other nutrients. They come from various sources, the healthiest of which are foods rich in unsaturated fats like legumes, plant-based oils like olive and nut oils, and omega-3 fats in fatty fish. 
  • Proteins. Protein is necessary for building cells and tissue. For protein, choose low-fat dairy, eggs, poultry, nuts, seeds, and tofu. 
  • Vitamins and minerals.  Vitamins and minerals facilitate various bodily functions, like supporting the immune system, promoting eye health, producing red blood cells, blood clotting, promoting healthy bones and teeth, and many other functions. They can be found in almost every food category, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and protein sources. 
  • Water. Water is necessary for adequate hydration and is crucial for many bodily processes, including heat regulation, joint lubrication, nutrient delivery to cells, and organ function. 
  • Fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but because of its important function, it’s often recognized as a unique nutrient. Fiber aids digestion and helps to control blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It can also help you feel full after a meal. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

What does nutrient-dense mean?

“Nutrient-dense” is a label applied to foods with a high concentration of nutrients relative to their weight. When eaten, these foods deliver a measurable amount of the nutrients needed daily to support healthy bodily functioning. 

When shopping for groceries, read the food labels to see which nutrients they contain and the percentage of your daily recommended intake of each nutrient they provide per serving. 

Reading food labels can help you find nutrient-dense foods, and it can also help you determine which foods to avoid based on their sugar, sodium, and saturated fat content. Foods that contain high levels of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat are best consumed in moderation, as excessive consumption of these is linked to an increased risk of certain health problems like heart attacks. 

What are the most nutrient-dense foods?

The most nutrient-dense foods are unprocessed. For example, whole fruits are more nutrient-dense than fruit juice. This is because nutrients are lost in processing with many foods, like fruits losing their fiber when juiced. 

Aside from fruits, other nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins like beans, skinless chicken breast, and unsalted nuts. As a general guideline, prioritizing the foods found on a grocery store’s perimeter—like produce and minimally processed proteins—is an effective strategy for building nutrient-dense meals. 
At LiveWell with Traditions, we have decades of experience supporting senior nutrition with a meal plan program that meets the “nutrient-dense” criteria for optimal health. Learn more about improving your health by including more nutrient-dense meals every week in our blog post on 10 Tips for a Strong and Healthy Heart.


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