Eating Nutrient Dense Food – What It REALLY Means

A few years ago, I made a significant shift in my thinking as it relates to my health. When we think about health long term and making sustainable decisions that can last a life time, the idea of constantly counting and measuring our food can be not only overwhelming but exhausting in its own right. Rather, making decisions about the food that you eat should be simple. Eat nutrient dense real food. Food should be something you enjoy cooking, eating and digesting, not something that you and your body have grown to hate.

But what does it mean to eat ‘nutrient dense food’? This is simply the amount of nutrients you get for the amount of calories you take in from a given food. High level of nutrients with low levels of calories is the goal. And ‘nutrients’ are macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

The easiest way for me to think about this is how much processing has to go into this to make it something I can eat. Is it a fairly simple food? Can I pick it from a tree or garden? If so, it’s usually bang on. When I am making decisions at the grocery store I think to myself – is this going to help me on my healthy journey or create issues or blocks for me? Think about how eating this food is going to make you feel – is it easy for me to digest? Will it support a strong immune system? Will it help me with my energy and sleep? Nutrient dense food will do all of this and more.

So, what are the best of the best? Here are my top nutrient dense foods:

  • Salmon
  • Kale
  • Garlic
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Berries, especially blueberries
  • Eggs
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Green Veggies, especially Broccoli
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Seeds, especially Chia Seeds and Hemp Seeds
  • Red Peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Beets

Equally as important to WHAT we’re eating is what we’re cooking it in and topping it with. You can have great intentions by eating salad every day, but if you’re deep frying a piece of chicken in corn oil to put on top of your salad and dousing it is high sugar, high calorie dressing, you’re missing the health boat. When I look at the calorie count for restaurant salads I am blown away. Many are over 1500 calories…FOR A SALAD!! Yes, you’re getting you veggies in, but need to be mindful of how you’re getting them in too.

Making at home salad dressings is a great way to keep things on the up and up. Using apple cider vinegar, healthy oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil, hemp oil or extra virgin olive oil are a great base. Adding seasoning that is low in sodium is a great way to pack in the flavour. And you can never have enough Turmeric by the way…it’s loading with tons of health benefits.

When cooking meat or veggies, the same rules still apply about what we’re cooking things IN. Cooking spray or corn oil are crap. Stick to any of the above suggested oils or try ghee or butter. Remember – real is good, fake is bad.

When you’re adding sauce to your food, be sparing. Especially with store-bought sauces. Did you know that BBQ sauce has on average 12 grams of sugar per serving and ketchup has 8? These are HIGH! Same goes for salad dressing – you take away your ‘good meal’ idea when you cover it is sugar. Four grams of sugar is approximately one teaspoon of granulated sugar. And who only puts one serving of something usually on things? Portion control is key for sure here too.

Here’s what I think it really comes down to. When you are choosing your food, you are choosing for health or not for health. It’s not a statement of judgement. It’s simply the truth. That doesn’t mean you’re never allowed to have a piece of cake again. But when you are making your meals and choosing your food, be mindful of is this healthy for me? And even more specifically, is this going to support my immune system strength and my digestive system health? If yes – put it in the cart. If not, make another choice. It really is all about our choices and how they affect the way we feel inside and out.