Ever wonder how some people can just eat all day and never gain weight? While some are just born with a naturally high metabolism (thank your parents), the vast majority of us frequent eaters must choose foods that give us the nutrients and energy we need to function throughout the day for less calories.
Notice it’s not about less food, but less calories. “Nutrient density” represents a food’s nutrient bang for its calorie buck. Understanding nutrient density and learning how to choose nutrient dense foods is the key to eating better . . . and more.
An example: Let’s say you want a snack. Consider one of these three options:
- A candy bar
- A low-fat yogurt, medium peach and a few almonds
- 15 baby carrots, a whole 10 oz. package of cherry tomatoes, a full bunch of celery and a couple tablespoons of hummus or low-fat dressing
You could eat the first option very easily and possibly still be hungry (or crash) an hour later. You’d probably be satisfied with the second. How about the third option, sound like a bit much? Sound like it’s impossible to eat at one sitting? That’s the point.
All three of these snacks have one thing in common: the calories; each has about 250-275. But the second two options provide you with a lot more food to eat than the first. Which means you can eat a bunch more throughout the day and have the same or fewer calories. And when you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight.
Furthermore, nutrient dense foods provide you with tons of nutrients (i.e. water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.) that help keep you full and prevent you from “crashing” during the day. And you get to eat more of them every few hours to boot. You can truly never go hungry again, as long as you choose the right foods.
So what are the most nutrient dense foods? That’s right, fruits and veggies (maybe the example gave it away?). For some of my clients, our initial goal is to eat more fruits and veggies, rather than eliminating any foods. By eating more produce, you will likely eat better anyways since they:
- Displace other, higher-calorie foods from your diet.
- Leave more food over at meals because you got full sooner.
- Are less affected by temptations and cravings since the fruits and veggies help stabilize your blood sugars and reduce hunger pangs.
Even if you don’t want to eat fruits and vegetables all the time, ask yourself at every meal: “What can I get more nutrients in for fewer calories?” Sometimes it’s as simple as ordering a leaner cut of meat or getting a baked potato without as much butter, sour cream or bacon.
My challenge to you: For the next month, have at least one fruit- or vegetable-based snack every day. Some example would be celery and hummus, an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter, carrots and low-fat dressing or low-fat yogurt with some berries.
Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, author of Savor Fitness & Nutrition wellness blog and avid proponent of MyBodyTutor, a health coaching website dedicated to helping people stay consistent with their healthy eating and exercise goals.