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Nutrient Dense vs. Calorically Dense

Humans need food, period! Food provides us with both nutrients and calories, which brings us to our topic this month of nutrient dense foods versus calorie dense foods. You have probably heard that you should be eating “nutrient-dense” foods, but you may be confused on how to implement that in your well-balanced plate. Let us break it down for you so you get the most nutrient bang for your caloric buck!

Rolling off what we discussed last month, creating a well-balanced plate, nutrient dense foods will cover most of your plate. Nutrient density means the food is lower in calories but high in nutrients and volume. Nutrient dense foods will provide you with nutrients like vitamins, minerals and complex carbohydrates (fiber) that will help keep you feeling fuller, longer. When trying to eat nutrient dense foods think of foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, beans or fibrous foods.

Now let’s discuss calorically dense foods. Caloric density refers to foods that are high in calories (energy) but are lacking vitamins, minerals and other essentials that are required for a “healthy” diet. Foods that are higher in calories don’t make that food “bad”, but some calorically dense foods may not be considered beneficial for our overall health. This does not mean that you cannot eat this food because they lack nutrients, but moderation is key for success with your nutrition and health. Let us also point out that there are some foods that are nutrient dense and higher calories like avocados, nuts, quinoa, salmon, hummus, etc. These foods are great additions to a well-balanced plate.

One thing we have to remember is just because it “fits” in your macros or calories for that day doesn’t mean that it is the best option. If you know you want a calorically dense snack or food for that day make sure you are consuming a well-balanced plate, first. NEVER completely eliminate calorically dense snacks or foods that make you happy, unless it is related to a health issue. Just consume these snacks or foods in moderation. MODERATION is key!


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