Being well and staying fit isn't just about eating fewer calories. It's important to make sure that the calories you consume are working for you, providing the most nutritious bang for the buck. In other words, you want the maximum amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fatty acids for the fewest calories. It doesn't mean all the foods you eat have to be "low calorie"-they just have to offer a good deal of nourishment per calorie.

Eat Whole Foods     

Generally, whole foods are more nutrient dense than processed foods, which tend to have empty calories (calories that offer little to no nutrition). A slice of whole-grain bread, for example, has about the same number of calories as a slice of white bread but offers a lot more fiber and vitamins. Similarly, milk has more calcium per calorie than ice cream. It contains about twice as much calcium per cup even though it has only about a quarter of the calories. You'd have to eat a lot of ice cream—and take in way too many calories—to get the nutritional benefits that one cup of milk offers.

Eat the Colors of the Rainbow

Foods that are naturally deeply colored are often much more nutrient dense, while lighter-colored or white foods, which may be refined, are not. Dark red, green, and orange produce is almost always a good bet, as are grains that haven't been stripped of their fibrous husks. Anything with excess added sugar is not worth the calories; neither is anything full of saturated fat.

Eat This, Instead of That

  • brown rice instead of white rice
  • whole fruit instead of fruit juice
  • low-fat yogurt instead of ice cream
  • sweet potatoes instead of potato chips
  • fish or poultry instead of fatty red meat
  • hummus instead of mayonnaise
  • fortified nutrition bar instead of a candy bar

The good news is that by eating food that's calorie dense, you'll feel fuller and more satisfied than you would eating by higher-calorie foods lacking nutrition.

Alison Massey reviewed this article.



American Society for Nutrition. "Interview With Dr. Barbara Rolls, Speaker." Web.

World's Healthiest Foods. "What is Nutrition Density and Why is It So Important?" Web.

Clemson Cooperative Extension. "Nutrient Density." Web.