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nutrient dense food variety

Try "Nutrient-Dense" for the New Year

By Sarah Jerome, RD January 01, 2024 Posted in: Nutrition

New Year, New You!  It’s the common phrase we hear at the beginning of each new year. What are the feelings that surface when you ask yourself this question? Yes, maybe a new year, but new me? Does that mean something about the current me needs to change? The idea of change could be exciting - a new adventure around the corner, new insight, a different perspective, fresh prospects, new opportunities, etc. This new year, let yourself feel whatever comes, and let that guide how you’ll live out 2024.

The food we consume has a direct correlation with our overall health. That only makes sense, as the food we eat becomes the very cells that make us, well, us. It’s important to be informed about the foods we eat. With so many convenient, boxed, and processed options, it seems our food is moving more and more towards manufactured varieties and less and less from its pure, natural form. What can make a big difference in overall health and how we feel is how nutrient-dense our food is.

What Is Nutrient-Dense Food?

Well, it’s food that packs a punch as far as the health benefits it provides. It’s food in its most basic form; oftentimes without a label. The closer it is to being hand picked from the ground, tree, or vine, the more nutrient-density it has. Examples include:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains

Eating a variety of these types of foods helps fuel our body with a variety of macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Variety also keeps us from eating too much of any one food group and lowers our risk of developing nutritional deficiencies.

3 Steps to Create a Balanced Nutrient-Dense Diet

1.) Aim to make half your plate non-starchy vegetables.

These foods contain great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help us combat diseases. Non-starchy vegetables are fairly low in calories. This means we can fill our plate by eating more volume without worrying too much about our waistline. There is a big focus on non-starchy vegetables in diet plans such as the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), because non-starchy vegetables are naturally great at lowering cholesterol and make our heart feel very happy and healthy.

While containing some natural sugar, these foods are much lower in sugar as compared to starchy foods like bread, pasta, and potatoes. An advantage to this is helping people with diabetes manage their blood sugars.

2.) Include lean protein on at least a quarter of your plate.

It takes our body longer to digest protein, leading to the food staying longer in our bellies. As a result, we stay fuller longer. Because of this, protein naturally helps us control our portions with each meal. Choosing lean cuts of protein like chicken, turkey, and seafood more often is good for our heart. Red meat and processed meats are okay, but less often. They have higher fat and sodium amounts, which when eaten in large quantities over long periods of time can lead to increased risks for heart disease and stroke.

3.) Finally, fill a quarter of your plate whole grains.

Whole grains contain natural sugars, which give us energy and allow us to think clearly throughout our day. With a little planning, this style of eating is very do-able, and can be adjusted to your budget, cultural practices, and dietary preferences. Plus, your body will thank you in the long run!

Reach out to your provider if you have more questions about nutrition. 

Sarah Jerome, RD
Sarah Jerome, RD

Sarah Jerome is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian with CHI Health

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