Max Out the Nutrient Density of Common Foods

Max Out the Nutrient Density of Common Foods

The Nutrient Density Plan is too boring a name for a diet but it might be the simplest and most healthful perspective on nutrition I can endorse for everyone.  It’s simple, it works, and your body will thank you.

Despite the simplicity of the nutrient-density concept, don’t be fooled – nutrition is complex, a realm for experts, really.  Here’s the good news, a “clean” body with an efficient metabolism is absolutely an expert in this area and, if given the right nutrients, will make most of the decisions for your health that need to be made.  Most of us simply aren’t giving our body the chance to show off its skills. 

So I was inspired to create this blog by the book, Eating on the Wild Side, by Jo Robinson.  She is also creator of the website, – one of our most widely recommended resources for finding grass-fed, local and organic foods and farmers. 

I compiled a short list – inspired by the book and straight from my personal recommendations to patients over the years.  I love this stuff.  Oh, and so will you… “nutrient dense” offers more robust, better tasting flavors that your body will love and thrive on.

Nutrient Density: Simple ways to max out your diet!

  • Lettuce: The darker, the better (think red leaf lettuce) and you want to choose lettuce that has loose leaves, not coiled around each other like iceberg.  Lettuce that is open to the sun will have a higher nutrient content.  When you buy lettuce, as soon as you get home, wash it and rip it into pieces. The lettuce will start making more phytonutrients as a way to protect itself from the damage
  • Apples: When choosing apples, choose the ones which are uniformly red or pink. The color is a response to the sun exposure and the fruit will increase its nutrients
  • Onions: The stronger tasting onions, the more potent antioxidants and immune enhancing properties they contain (ie. Sweet Vidalia is lower on the list).
  • Farmer’s Markets: Farmer’s markets and local farms are known for using different varieties of vegetables and fruits – so shop there, and when you see something unusual, buy it.  Your body will enjoy the different spectrum of phytonutrients.  It’s also a great way to buy fresh, and seasonal products which will be more nutrient dense, taste better.
  • Potatoes: potatoes if you soak potatoes before you cook them, it will reduce the starches and lower their glycemic load. The same goes for chilling the potatoes after you cook them.  Dark, thick skinned potatoes are more nutrient dense.
  • Tomatoes: The smaller and the redder the tomato- the more nutrient dense (think cherry tom).  Cooking tomatoes longer than 30 minutes doubles their lycopene content.
  • Carrots: Carrots are better for you when cooked in oil because it makes their beta-carotene (fat- soluble vitamin) more available to you.
  • Veggies: To get the most minerals out of all of your veggies – add an acidic medium like vinegar or citrus.
  • Blueberries: Cooked blueberries deliver more antioxidants than fresh.
  • Green Tea: Using the same green tea bag during the day- each new cup (fresh water and same tea bag) increases the catechin (antioxidant) content.Bowl of Farm Fresh Veggies
  • Variety: Variety is key to optimal nutrition – different colors, different varieties, always using newfoods.  
  • Color: Deep rich colors, usually mean higher-nutrient quality.  Every color offers a different nutrient profile, so eat a rainbow (Not talking candy, here!). 
  • Priority: “Eat Me First” foods include artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, kale, leeks, lettuce, and spinach – nutrient density deteriorates quickly.
  • Skins: Eat the skins of fruits and vegetables – packed full of nutrients.
  • Shelf life: The longer the plant has been out of the ground, the more nutrients it has lost: Eat fresh and local.
  • Purple Carrots: purple carrots are higher in anthocyanins – much better than typical orange carrots. When you see purple varieties, buy them!
  • Grass-Fed Dairy/Meat: Grass-fed dairy and meats are high in CLA – a cancer fighting, fat burning essential fatty acid. Always look for grass fed milk, cheese, and beef. 
  • Eggs: Eggs should always be from pastured chickens, not vegetarian fed which is so populary advertised. Chickens are not natural vegetarians. They need access to all kinds of food, including worms and insects so that they can have a wide range of nutrients.  The slower and lower you heat an egg, the healthier it is for you – think hard boiled and soft boiled.
  • Cooking Meats: Cooking meats longer and lower temperature also preserves nutrients and prevents some of the glycation products associated with high-heat/charred meats.
  • Factory-farmed Meats: chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and cows are tightly packed into cages with no room to move, can’t eat their natural diet, or even act like animals. The constant stress and poor diet create unhealthy animals who need medications. Besides animal cruelty, which is unacceptable, their meat and by-products lack nutrients and essential fatty acids.  Know where your meat is coming from!

To underscore the importance of increasing nutrient density any way you can I want to share a scaled-down glimpse of what we’re up against.  This is a broader issue that affects us all.  If you ask a big tomato company what’s most important in a good tomato.  They’ll say “weight” (They get paid by the pound.), then maybe “durability” (Has to make it to market in good shape), then “color” (People want it to look fresh).  Lower down on the list is flavor and not even on the list will be nutrient density.  I don’t pass judgment as they’re simply trying to run a solid business but I also can’t ignore the impact on health.  The ultimate “cost” in my opinion, besides mealy tomatoes is poor nutrient variety delivered to your body.  Creating health, therefore, is similar to building a house with just a handful of nails, a few pieces of wood and a screwdriver.

So, I want you to take this list, use it.

These are just a handful of ideas and there are many more tricks you can try. So, expand the list.

Perhaps you have some to share.  We’d love to hear them below.

photo credit: via photopin cc