Cultivate Nutrient-Rich Eating

Use these tactics to get the most bang for your nutrition buck.

Sharon Palmer, R.D.

Environmental Nutrition

June 25, 2010


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:

(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)