Integrative Nutrition Blog

Insights on Autoimmune Health and Inflammatory Conditions

Eat More Nutrient Dense Foods

Feb 14, 2024 | All

Nutrient dense eating is a great way to feed your body nutrients necessary for optimal functioning. I’m guessing we all know what foods are more nutrient dense than others. However, there’s a big difference between knowing what to do and implementing that knowledge. Below are a few tips to help you start implementing more nutrient dense eating into your daily life.

Tip 1: Meal Planning

The most effective way to become a more nutrient dense eater is to plan out your meals. Meal planning isabsolutely key to sticking with any eating plan, and is essential for helping you choose more nutrient dense foods.

Thinking ahead to what meals you eat for the week ahead provides a framework for your eating pattern and helps you optimize your nutrients by making sure you have nutrient dense foods in your home. Planning out meals and grocery shopping for those meals will also help avoid food emergencies. Food emergencies are the number one reason why people get off track. If you have the food you need at home for all of the meals you planned, then theoretically you shouldn’t run into a situation where you have no options and you reach for whatever is convenient.

Meal planning does not have to be elaborate. You can choose the same meal or type of meal for multiple meals. Here’s an easy way to keep things simple. Pick 1-2 options for breakfast. Lunch is again, 1-2 options or leftovers from dinner. Dinner is usually the one that takes a little more planning. For each meal, pick 1 protein, 1-2 non-starchy vegetables, and 1 whole grain or starchy vegetable. Check out my blog post on meal planning for more ideas.

As you meal plan, always have nutrient density in the front of your mind. Are you choosing meals with lots of vegetables, whole grains and high quality proteins? Are you getting enough colors in your meals? Is there variety? Answering all of those questions while you meal plan will help you achieve nutrient density.

Tip 2: Make Decisions Based on Nutrients

While meal planning helps take the guesswork out of what to eat, it’s not a foolproof solution. There are times when you will be faced with the choice of what to order or what to choose to eat. To be a nutrient dense eater, you want to make your food decisions about nutrients. Ask yourself, which option will give me the most nutrients for my body?

If you are not the most nutrient savvy or don’t feel like googling every single food, here’s a quick way to make this decision.

  1. Choose the option with either more colors or more vegetables.
  2. Does it have a good protein source?
  3. Does it have fiber?
  4. Will it be satisfying?

Sometimes your choice may not have any of these characteristics. If not, then I would pick the one with the least amount of sugar. If the nutrition label isn’t available, make your best guess.

Tip 3: Find a Balance

Nutrient density is a general eating pattern designed to feed your body with the most nutrients as possible. However, no one is perfect. It’s okay to have a bag of potato chips or ice cream. You want to make sure that you do this in moderation. Some people recommend the 80/20 rule – 80% of your diet comes from nutrient dense foods and the other 20% is not.

I think eating an 80/20 diet is hard to quantify. I advise my clients to go by feel and be mindful about the non-nutrient dense foods. For instance, if you want a bag of chips, eat the chips. But eat those chips with an intuitive hat on. Really taste those chips and notice how they make you feel. Every bite should be as good as the first. When it’s not, it’s time to stop eating them.

Additionally, there are some more nutrient dense alternatives to processed foods. If you have a sweet tooth like me, dates and dark chocolate are a great option. Dark chocolate has a number of beneficial compounds and nutrients. I love plantain chips as a substitute for regular potato chips. So just because something is considered a “treat” or may be viewed as “bad”, it might not be as bad as you think. Or, there may be a more nutrient dense alternative for that food if you look hard enough.

Nutrient dense eating can seem overwhelming to implement. However, with a little planning and change in viewpoint, you can become a nutrient dense eater. If you need more help increasing nutrients in your food, please contact me to chat about how I can help. Additionally, you can find more tips about managing your autoimmune disease with food and lifestyle by following me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

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