Ever since I began a more health conscious way of eating and living, my ears always perk up when I hear people talk about how they are trying to make improvements to their body. Whether they are just trying to shed a couple of pounds or be healthier in general, its interesting to see and hear about the various techniques they are using to get there.
There are so many different ways to manipulate your body to get it how you want it, but a lot of times, people can lose sight of the important aspects of losing, gaining or maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy body.
Many diets for weight loss, weight gain, and even maintenance require the counting of either calories alone, or calories and macro-nutrients. While this method is all fine and dandy and usually pretty effective, people tend to forget about the micro-nutrients and the nutrient density of the food they are eating.
So you might be wondering, what are these macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients? What does nutrient density mean?
Lets take it back to high school biology and talk about how the body converts food into energy. From a high level perspective, its pretty simple. You eat food, your body converts the calories from the food into energy. The energy is used to fuel your body’s movements and processes, voluntary and involuntary.
But what are calories made up of? Calories are simply a measurement of the energy your body will get from the food you eat.
Calories come in the form of macro-nutrients. There are three types of macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
Protein contains amino acids which are necessary for the creation and repair of your body’s cells. Protein contains 4 calories per gram, and helps with satiety and appetite control. Protein comes from meat, poultry, and fish, as well as eggs and plant-based foods.
Carbohydrates come in forms of sugars, starches, and fiber, all of which are converted to glucose which is converted into energy. That energy is used to support your bodily functions and physical activity. While carbohydrates can be an important source of fuel to the body, choosing the right forms of carbs is super important. Carbs weigh in at 4 calories per gram.
I talk about fat in my post Be Nice to Fat, but basically, fat aids in micro-nutrient absorption. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble vitamins, they need fat to transport them throughout the body. Fat is the most calorically dense macro-nutrient with 9 calories per gram.
All food that has calories contain macro-nutrients. When deciding which foods to eat, however, you must look at the micro-nutrient values. What are micro-nutrients?
Micro-nutrients are the vitamins and minerals that are essential to a healthy, happy body.
While micro-nutrients have no caloric value, they are just as important to consume. Vitamins and minerals are an essential part of breaking down macro-nutrients and converting them to energy.
This is where nutrient density comes into play.
Nutrient density is the proportion and quality of micro-nutrients in relation to the amount of macro-nutrients (calories).
Highly nutrient dense foods give you the most bang for your buck, or the most vitamins and minerals for the least amount of calories.
On the contrary, low nutrient dense foods are often referred to as “empty calories” and the breakdown of these foods leaves your body working harder, not smarter.
Lets compare two similar carbohydrate sources: sweet potatoes vs. wheat bread.
As you can see in the image above, sweet potatoes contain more vitamins and minerals to the calorie and carb than wheat bread. In this case, 103 calories of sweet potato is more nutrient dense than the wheat bread.
So why is nutrient density so important? Well, if vitamins and minerals are essential to converting food into energy, it only makes sense that the food we consume should include the vitamins and minerals needed to do that.
If we eat nutrient poor foods, empty calories, your body uses the very little vitamins and minerals that it is storing to convert the calories to energy. This leaves you with a quick burst of energy and then a crash that can leave you feeling pretty blah.
Ensuring that you are consuming nutrient dense foods at every meal is super important. Consciously making those changes and incorporating more nutrient dense food will sustain your energy, leave you more satiated, and give your body the vitamins and minerals you need to live a healthy, vivacious life!
So if you are tracking macros, counting calories, or just being mindful of your food consumption, consider the nutrient density!