These days there’s a lot of talk about “nutrient dense” foods, but many of us are asking the question “what are they and why should I eat them?” To put it simply, nutrient density means how many nutrients you get from a food, given the number of calories it contains. When we eat “nutrient rich” foods we get concentrated amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients, without the added ingredients that increase calories and our waistlines.

Some nutrient dense foods that pack a powerful energy punch:

Leafy greens
When choosing a vegetable, select one that’s rich in color, as you can be assured that that it’s rich in nutrients. Leafy greens such as collards, swiss chard, kale, spinach, and lettuces supply generous servings of vitamins A and C (antioxidants), calcium (bone health), iron (carries oxygen to your organs), fiber (digestive health), and protein (tissue building and repair).  Eat them in salads or sauté in a stir fry.

Beans
All joking aside, beans truly are good for your heart. They are a significant source of low-fat protein as well as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and B vitamins, all of which support a healthy metabolism. Throw them in your salad, soups or wraps for a tasty and hearty meal.

Fruit
Often called “nature’s dessert,” fruit is a great way to satisfy those sweet cravings, and is another excellent source of healthy carbohydrates. It’s also packed with vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A and C, which help fight free radicals and keep you healthy and young. Fruit is also an important source of potassium, which can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Add it to your smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal in the morning.

Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are an excellent source of monounsaturated-fatty acids (MUF) such as oleic and palmitoleic acids, which help to lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increase HDL or “good cholesterol.”  They’re also a great source of protein; a tablespoon of peanut butter (natural, no sugar or oil added) on whole-wheat toast is a quick, satisfying breakfast that will help you push through those tough morning hours.

Whole Grains
Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium and selenium).  While there’s much debate these days about whether or not grains are good for you, it’s important to point out the difference between whole and refined grains. Healthy whole grains, like those in oatmeal, brown rice or quinoa, are packed with fiber, which slows down the digestive process, providing you with sustained energy as well as allowing your body to absorb their nutrients. Refined grains such as white bread and pasta offer a quick pick me up just to let you down quickly.  Quinoa, a power pseudo grain, is a super source of fiber, B vitamins, and protein. Cook it like rice for a side dish or mix with, nuts and berries for a delicious hot breakfast cereal.

Water
Readily available, cheap, and good for you, water helps carry nutrients to your cells. Even mild dehydration can make you feel deflated, so drink a glass of water when you are thirsty and before, during, and after exercise. For optimal benefits, drink at least eight 8-ounces of H2O each day.