How to Calculate Nutrient Density

There are several different algorithms and calculations to determine nutrient density. Try this straightforward and easy method.
Image Credit: Igor Ustynskyy/Moment/GettyImages

A nutrient-dense food has a high ratio of nutrients to calories. The amount of calories eaten in a day is largely driven by energy needs, satiety and appetite and can be satisfied well before a person reaches their nutrition goals if eating nutrient-poor foods.

Advertisement

Video of the Day

Choosing foods high in fiber, protein and essential vitamins and minerals will help you eat a high-quality diet. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, legumes and low-fat dairy tend to have the most nutrients per calorie, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Assigning numbers to different foods can help you to quickly see and compare their nutrient density to make the best choice for your diet. There have been several different methods of determining nutrient density over the years, but no universal method is currently in use.

Advertisement

One quick way to find the nutrient density for a specific nutrient in food is by using the Index of Nutritional Quality (INQ), which is a simple and practical way to determine the ratio of nutrient-to-calorie content of food, per a July 2018 article in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.

The INQ can be calculated for any nutrient that a recommended daily allowance (RDA) is set for to help you determine the nutrient density of that food.

Advertisement

RDA for Common Nutrients

Nutrient

RDA

Protein

50 grams

Total fat

78 grams

Carbohydrates

275 grams

Fiber

28 grams

Calcium

1,300 milligrams

Vitamin C

90 milligrams

Iron

18 milligrams

Source: FDA

1. Divide the Nutrient Amount by the RDA

Take the amount of the nutrient in grams per 100 grams of food and divide it by the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for that nutrient.

In one large egg, for example, there are 6.3 grams of protein. The RDA for adults is 50 grams of protein. So 6.3 divided by 50 gives you about 0.126.

Advertisement

2. Divide the Calorie Amount by the Total Daily Calories

Take the calories per 100 grams of the food and divide it by the reference calorie intake of 2,000 calories per day.

Eggs have 144 calories per 100 grams. Dividing 144 by 2,000 gives you roughly 0.072.

3. Divide the Number from Step 1 by the Number From Step 2

Divide the number you got using the RDA calculation in step 1 by the number you got in the calorie calculation in step 2.

Advertisement

For the egg example, 0.126 divided by 0.072 is 1.75.

Using the Nutrition Facts Label

To easily determine whether or not a food is nutrient-dense while shopping, just take a look at the nutrition facts label and the percent daily value for each particular nutrient.

For a food to be considered a "good" source of a nutrient, it must have between 10 and 19 percent of the percent daily value per serving, according to the FDA. A food is considered an "excellent" nutrient source if it provides over 20 percent of the daily value per serving.

Nutrient-dense foods are often high in dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium and lower in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium.

Tip

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 emphasize eating whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.

Advertisement

references & resources

Report an Issue

screenshot of the current page

Screenshot loading...