It's no secret that what you eat affects your health. If you're looking to maximize the nutritional quality of every bite you take, include foods with a high nutrient density, which means foods that provide a number of essential nutrients in a small amount of calories. Most health care professionals agree that nutrient-dense foods should be the focus of your diet. In short, this means boosting your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy foods.
Super Nutritious Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and veggies are the ultimate nutrient-dense food. They are low in calories and fat and high in fiber, potassium, vitamins A and C and folate. Fruits and vegetables are also rich in phytochemicals, which are nutrients that offer a number of benefits to the body, including increased immunity, eye and skin health, and protection against cancer and heart disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you load half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Generally Whole Grains
Whole grains, like fruits and vegetables, are naturally rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and phytochemicals. The USDA's MyPlate.gov website recommends that you make at least half your grain servings whole grains. Including more whole grains in your diet not only improves the nutritional quality of your diet, but it also might reduce your risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and cancer. The fiber in whole grains also helps prevent constipation and helps protect you against diverticular disease.
Keep It Lean, Protein
The human body needs protein for growth, development and cell repair. Foods rich in protein also provide iron, B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc and magnesium. Nutrient-dense protein foods include lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. Most Americans meet their protein needs by eating beef, poultry and eggs, according to the USDA. To vary your nutrient intake from foods rich in protein, it is important to eat protein from different sources. Try mixing it up with seafood, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. Seafood, nuts and seeds contain nutrients that protect your heart and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy
You might already know that you need calcium for strong bones, but it is also needed for nerve transmission, muscle contractions and the constriction and dilation of your blood vessels. Low-fat and fat-free dairy products are a good source of calcium and also provide vitamin D, protein and potassium without all of the saturated fat and calories, making them high-nutrient-dense choices. Including low-fat and fat-free milk in your diet not only improves bone health but may also lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of type-2 diabetes.
- NIHSeniorHealth: Eating Well as You Get Older
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: ChooseMyPlate.gov: Food Groups
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: What Are Phytochemicals?
- Harvard School of Public Health: Health Gains from Whole Grains
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Chapter 4 - Foods and Nutrients to Increase