Sharon Palmer, R.D.

The latest buzzword in healthful eating is not low-calorie, low-sodium or low-fat: It's "nutrient-rich."

What's nutrient-rich eating? Just consider a 100 Calorie Pack of Hostess Twinkie Bites. Sure, they only contain 100 calories, 2.5 grams (g) fat, 1 g saturated fat and 160 milligrams of sodium in three tiny cakes, but what kind of nutritional reward do you get for that 100-calorie investment? Check out the ingredient list and you'll find a string of processed, refined ingredients, cuing you to the fact that those 100 calories are basically empty ones.

Compare that to a 100-calorie bowl of fresh strawberries, containing two cups of strawberry halves packed with 24 percent Daily Value (DV, daily requirement based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet) of fiber, 298 percent DV vitamin C, 18 percent DV folate, 14 percent DV potassium and 58 percent DV manganese, along with a cache of other minerals and vitamins and health-protective plant compounds. See the nutrient-rich difference?

Nutrient-rich foods have a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio, making them nutrition bargains, rather than only calorie, fat or sodium bargains. With so many food labels screaming "low" -- from low-fat to low-sugar -- it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking those foods are naturally healthful choices.

While it's good to keep your intake of calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium under control, you can do that the nutrient-rich way or the nutrient-poor way. The nutrient-rich foods approach is fostered by the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition (NRFC), a partnership of researchers, communication experts, and agricultural commodities working together to help people live a more healthful lifestyle.

According to Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., Director for the Center for Obesity Research and Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington and principal researcher for NRFC, "We have an overweight and undernourished public. People are consuming too many empty calories. We need to shift to a nutrient-rich tipping point with foods that have more nutrients per calorie and by making each calorie count more."

Here are some tips to infuse your diet with nutrient-rich foods:

--Focus on whole foods -- foods and ingredients that often don't come in fancy packaging, such as produce and fresh meats.

--Shop the perimeter of the store, where you'll find produce, grains, dairy and meats.

--Pile your plate high with a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

--Opt for a variety of whole grains in breads, side dishes and cereals.

--Remember that lean meat, skinless poultry, fish and eggs are the epitome of nutrient-rich proteins.

--Reduce-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are nutrient-rich superstars.

--Tap into legumes, including lentils, soybeans, dried peas and a variety of beans for a nutrient-rich protein source.

--Nuts are dense in calories, but one handful a day offers nutritional rewards.

--Instead of refined, processed breakfast cereal, try steel-cut oatmeal with fruit, nuts and low-fat milk.

--When it comes to packaged foods, read the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel to make the best choices.

--Keep your portions under control in order to make food choices nutrition-calorie bargains.

--Look for nutrient-rich foods when dining out, such as sandwiches made with lean meat and whole grains or grilled fish with vegetables.

--Watch out for empty-calorie snack foods on the go. Instead, pack yogurt, fresh fruits or nuts.

--Be careful of drinking empty calories, such as sweetened beverages.

--Check out the Nutrition Rich Foods Coalition website at for more tips.

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Copyright © Sharon Palmer, R.D. - Environmental Nutrition






Health & Nutrition - Cultivate a Nutrient-Rich Approach to Eating for Life