For those wishing to follow a more nutritious diet, nutrient dense foods are an important addition to their daily calorie intake, allowing them to eat well and obtain necessary vitamins and minerals but also to eat less and possibly to lose weight and increase overall health. Foods that are dense in nutrients carry a high level of nutrition in a smaller — and usually lower calorie — serving of food as compared to foods with lower nutrient density. Choosing nutrient-dense foods for snacks and meals can help reduce calories and increase nutrition in the everyday diet.
Common examples of nutrient dense foods are fruits and vegetables, especially those with dark, rich colors, such as leafy green vegetables, berries and carrots. Others include whole grains, nuts and seeds. These foods have a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including the all-important antioxidants that help prevent illness, reduce signs of aging, keep the brain functioning, and possibly even prevent cancer in the long term. Many foods considered to be nutrient dense are also referred to as "super foods" because of their extremely high levels of nutrients as compared to their size. Low calorie foods such as these should form the base of any healthy diet.
In contrast to highly desirable nutrient dense foods, many people turn instead to empty-calorie foods, which have a high calorie content and little to no nutritional value. Comparing the calorie content and the available nutrients in a piece of candy to a handful of blueberries, for example, gives a vivid example of the difference between the two types of calories. In most cases, a food that is dense in nutrients will provide many times the amount of nutrition for half the calories.
Other empty-calorie foods to avoid or, even better, to replace include processed foods such as white bread and white rice, sugary sodas, candies, and high fat proteins. Lean proteins such as chicken or beans provide more nutrition in proportion to fat and calories than red meat, and they also are considered nutrient dense foods. Many popular foods that have become staples of the American diet, such as french fries and sodas, carry very little nutritional value. By replacing these empty-calorie foods with those that contain more nutrients, as well as adding more fresh water, it is possible to greatly increase overall health, lose weight, reduce risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, and provide the body with a much higher quality of fuel on which to function.