In 2005, the government's revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans introduced the term "nutrient density," which sounds complicated but simply refers to how much nutrition a food provides. For example, a slice of 100 percent whole-grain bread is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, while a slice of regular white bread is lower in all three.
We asked nutrition consultants Lola O'Rourke, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D., L.D., also with the ADA, as well as Ann Yelmokas McDermott, Ph.D., M.S., L.N., of the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, to talk about nutrient-dense foods and how to add them to meals to boost nutrition and flavor.
Cooking Light: What is nutrient density?
Ann Yelmokas McDermott: It refers to the amount of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber in a given portion of food -- for the fewest number of calories. Nutrient-dense foods generally tend to be lower in calories. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and poultry are all nutrient-dense foods that give you a big bang for your buck: plenty of vitamins and minerals for the calories. (CookingLight.com: Five goals to improve your diet.external link )
CL: What are ways to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet?
Lola O'Rourke: Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and low in the things you want to minimize, like fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories. Fresh fruit, as a rule, is preferable to dried because it has much more water, so you feel fuller longer. The nutrient profile of dried fruit is similar to that of fresh (though vitamin C is destroyed by the heat used in the drying process) but contains more calories cup per cup because the water has been removed. You should eat dried fruit in moderation.
Fruit combines easily with main-course dishes. Include apples, diced pear, or mango on a salad, for example. Pour a fruit-based salsa over chicken or fish. If you like dried fruit, sliced or diced dried apricots in yogurt or on cereal is also a quick, convenient way to increase nutrient density of those foods.
A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Cancer Institute suggests that most Americans aren't consuming the recommended daily amount of vegetables -- 2½ cups a day. To eat more servings, combine them with the main course rather than eating them separately as side dishes. Grill a flank steak with a medley of peppers, onions, celery, and carrots, and serve it on a bed of brown rice. Add finely diced or shredded carrots to classic tomato sauce -- or broccoli or cauliflower to macaroni and cheese. While eating a variety of vegetables should be your goal -- each one has its own nutrient profile -- dark green and orange veggies are especially important because of their high antioxidant and vitamin levels.