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Nutrient Density vs. Caloric Density

Nutrient Density vs. Caloric Density

Culinary Nutritionist Andrea Canada describes the difference between foods packed with nutrients and those that are merely high in calories.

As a dietitian, I try to encourage people to eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods while watching the consumption of calorie-dense foods. So what’s the difference? Nutrient-dense foods are those foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber and not simply calories, sugar, salt and saturated fat. Simply put, per calorie, nutrient dense foods give you more beneficial nutrients. 

Fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy are examples of food with a higher nutrient-density, relatively fewer calories and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Sweets and heavily processed foods with a lot of added sugar and fat are generally calorie-dense without a wealth of those vitamins and minerals. 

There are some foods that are both nutrient and calorie-dense. 

  • Nuts and nut butters, seeds, olives and avocado contain beneficial nutrients and healthy unsaturated fats, but fat has more calories per gram than carbs or protein, so that makes them more calorie dense. 
  • Relative to fresh fruits, dried fruits can provide a lot of natural and possibly added sugars that contribute to their caloric density.

For foods like these, it’s important to pay special attention to portions and not overdo it.

To learn more about nutrition and how to eat healthy, see our other Nutrition 101 blog posts.

nutrition facts, nutrition advice, nutrient density, caloric density


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