Healthy Food Bites To Go: Nutrient Density is the Mantra

Count nutrients, not calories for a change. Calorie counting can be a vicious cycle. Restrict calorie intake too much and your body thinks it is being starved. The stress hormone cortisol is triggered and liable to sabotage the most well intentioned weight loss efforts. Worst case scenario, the impact of life stress causes a burst of cortisol, being released from the adrenal gland, which ultimately supports fat storage (rather than fat burning), suppresses the immune system (making us vulnerable to poor health) and causes an energy deficit in the form of fatigue.

Before you know it, cravings for sweet, salty and caffeinated beverages kick in. Metabolism is likely to slow down too, or stall, when calories are heavily restricted. The body, in its undernourished state, will signal hunger to the brain and send you into a ravenous state. This can lead to poor food choices, overeating and ultimately weight gain. That is why terms like lifestyle change are more a part of the healthy eating vernacular these days than dieting. Diets simply don’t create lasting change.

There is a Plan B.

Shift food focus and get more bang for your nutrient buck!

Load up on micronutrient-rich foods. Eat more plants.These plant-based foods include fresh raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, salads, legumes/beans, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. These are the raw materials for fueling and healing the body. Highly processed foods on the other hand, are devoid of vital nutrients. Without nutrients, the body does not have the ammunition to fight off its enemies.

The more nutrient dense the diet, the lower the risk is for chronic lifestyle diseases. In the short term, if you eat with nutrient density top of mind, you can expect more energy, fewer food cravings, an improved complexion, a more balanced mood and an easier time managing the scale. Eating a diet with a high nutrient load gives the body a chance to heal itself and restores balance.

“We know that lifestyle change, namely eating more plant-centered can prevent 80% of chronic lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer,” says Dr. Robert Ostfeld, MD, Director of Preventive Cardiology, Montefiore Health System speaking on ‘Confessions of a Reformed Cardiologist. A Plant-based Diet and Your Heart.’


Sadly, over half of the Standard American Diet (SAD) is composed of processed food. 42% is meat and dairy, and the remaining 7% is fruits and vegetables. Of that 7%, just under half of the fruit and veggies (or 40%) consists of potatoes, and half of those potatoes are french fries. No wonder when young children are asked what their two favorite vegetables are the most popular response is french fries and ketchup! This prevalent SAD eating style takes the focus off of the most nutrient dense health-pro-moting foods.

Include seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains (many sprouted because they are more easily digested – like a vegetable!), beans, lentils, yams, nuts and seeds. Whole plant-based food provides the body with an internal ‘car wash’.

Increasing plant-based proportions and reducing amounts of processed foods regardless of your eating style – carnivore, vegetarian, flexitarian, paleo or vegan.

Nutrient-rich plant foods with vitamins,minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, instead of counting macronutrients—fats, protein and carbohydrates. The latter puts a focus on dieting, counting calories and measuring food. Eating for nutrient density emphasizes healthy, whole food plant-based food without calorie counting.

Foods that have a high nutrient density are foods that provide a large amount and variety of vitamins and minerals with a small amount of calories. Foods that are low in nutrient density contain high amounts of fat and calories with small amounts of vita-mins and minerals.

At dinner, instead of eating a 5 ounce steak or salmon filet, try making the salad the main dish, and loading it up with a vast variety of colorful veggies (some cooked and some raw), a delicious nutrient dense dressing and a 3 ounce serving of meat or fish instead.

Make animal protein a smaller proportion within a descending list of dinner ingredients, instead of making it the main attraction, to increase nutrients in a meal.

At breakfast, instead of eating a container of yogurt with fruit on the bottom, cut up fresh seasonal fruit or pull some from the freezer (cherries, blueberries, grapes and mangos) and layer a generous dollop of Greek yogurt onto the nutrient dense whole fruit. Top with a drizzle of maple syrup, nutrient giants such as hemp or chia seeds, nuts and low-sugar or grain-free granola (contains mostly nuts and seeds)

Make dairy the 3rd or 4th ingredient instead of the main attraction to increase the nutrient load of what you are eating.

Cooking is truly the cornerstone of health. One not need be a chef in the kitchen to benefit from eating deliciously simple healthy fast food.Superior nutrition is about being able to taste, prepare and cook food more enjoyably.

“Someone has to stand up and say the answer isn’t another pill. The answer is spinach.” – Bill Maher

Our primitive brains want a quick fix the path of least resistance a calorie restrictive diet plan or a pill to restore good health. Our intellectual brain knows it takes effort to earn good health.

The beauty of food as medicine is that the choice to heal and promote health can begin as soon as the next nutrient dense meal.

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