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Ask Alicia: What is nutrient density and why should I care?

  • 2 min read

Not all calories are created equal.

Let’s pretend calories are money, and you have 2,000 calories to spend each day. You want to choose calories that fill your investment account versus calories that deplete your savings. When you invest in calories that are nutrient-dense, you are making an investment in your future health. When you choose empty calories, you are spending your reserves and may be left with an empty account when you need to make a withdrawal in your later years. 

Nutrient density means that the calories you consume are full of nutritional benefits that build your health. There is added value. Empty calories are when the food tears down your health or provides zero benefit. 

Let’s compare calories. A banana, an apple, a can of soda and a small bag of chips each have around 100-150 calories. The banana and apple are closer to 100. The banana has potassium and multivitamins and can be filling, which means you may need to eat less. Apples are high in Vitamin C and have fiber and antioxidants. A soda is mostly sugar, usually high fructose corn syrup, which does not have health benefits. A small bag of chips may be made from potatoes, but the unhealthy oils and salt leave it in the empty category. 

You may be thinking, so what? If I exercise and work off the calories, I’m good. I can eat 100 calories and burn 100 calories. There is a problem with that thinking. Exercise may be a calorie eraser, but it won’t erase the residue of the negative ingredients that you consumed with the calories. It just isn’t that easy. 

The goal is to stack the deck with food that is dense with nutrients. I like to call them superfoods, food with integrity. When you choose superfoods, you are making an investment in your future health.

Want to learn more about health, wellness, and living healthfully. Read more from our Ask Aliciaseries. 

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