GUIDELINE: Build meals with mostly higher nutrient dense foods and then add some lower nutrient dense foods to create satisfying portions, while controlling calories.
Higher caloric density foods pack lots of calories in small portions to provide the body with energy and essential nutrients (survival foods), but can easily add too many calories to a meal if overused.
For example oils such as olive, flax seed and coconut oil provide many heart healthy and neurological benefits, but contain high amounts of fat. ***all fats contain 9 calories/gram. A mere tablespoon can add an extra 100 calories to a meal. Fats are by far the highest dense of all foods and therefore are lower on our balancing pyramid. Remember we aren’t saying to stay away from things like olive and coconut oil, just be mindful of how much you consume.
Another high caloric but low nutrient dense food is sugar. Like fats, relatively small amounts can quickly jack up the caloric content of any snack, meal or drink yet it does not provide any nutrients, nor does it fill you up so you get pleasure but not satisfaction for hunger.
Finally, alcohol which is often combined with other forms of sugar is a high caloric, low nutrient density drink we need to be careful with. *Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, almost as much as fat!
Examples of Highest Calorie Dense Foods:
- Oils, butter,cream
- Sweets, Sugars, Cakes, Pastries, etc.
- Processed Cereals, Breads and Pasta
- Alcoholic Drinks
GUIDELINE: Don’t Judge a Food by its Size, or a Drink by its Color
The key to consuming the proper amount of food/drink for your body composition goals is being able to accurately estimate the caloric content and nutritional value of various foods and drinks.
Are your eyes bigger than your stomach?
As it turns out your eyes, stomach and emotions on their own are not the best systems for assessing caloric content as you might well know. Our eyes think in size and equate lots of food with lots of calories, which is clearly not always true. Just think of a massive salad, which can have almost zero calories. Our stomachs look to be satiated and think in bulk, water, fiber and nutrients so they will keep going until they are literally full.
How many times have you kept eating, even though you probably consumed enough calories?
Finally, our emotions don’t think at all, they feel, so depending on our mood we will ignore all other systems and either starve or binge. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge and start to get in touch with how we feel both physically and emotionally.
STRATEGY: Eat by the Technicolor standard. Look at or take a picture of your meals and what do you see?
If you see an exciting myriad of colors, textures, shapes, flavors and whole foods you pass the standard. If it is more of a beige blob of boring, salty processed foods, we need to try again! This visual standard is a super easy way to assess meals or snacks on the spot.Often times you just need to add more vegetables into dish. The majority of fast food, restaurants and semi-prepared foods make the grains or protein the foundation of the meal. Add in greens, beans, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, colorful peppers, etc. Add in more colors to get antioxidants. The colors in plant foods partially represent their various nutritional content (vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients, etc.) which your body and mind need to function well. In fact, they seem to need some of each to perform all of our bodily functions well and fight off a myriad of diseases. While doctors and studies have always shown the unparalleled benefits of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, research is now starting to suggest that synthetic vitamins and supplements might not work nearly as well. The secret to good health cannot be isolated in a pill, but rather requires a fully integrated approach.
Fruits and vegetables are a natural medicine, a source of self-healing that helps keep us from ever experiencing many of the body’s preventable ailments that we deal with today. This seems to be lost on most people who unfortunately see them as not as easy convenience foods and not as satisfying or comforting emotionally. It is time to turn back the clocks and eat how our parents and grandparents ate when it comes to daily vegetables and fruits. Drop all the pre-made processed foods and get whole!
GUIDELINES: Vegetables should be the foundation (largest quantity) of each meal. Eat a minimum 3-5 servings per day whether they are fresh, frozen, raw, cooked or canned.
There is an unlimited food category. Eat as much of these nutrient dense foods as you want!
2 cups of leafy greens equal one serving. For other vegetables, one serving is 1 cup. Vegetables are very filling, as they have lots of fiber and nutrients.
Not all vegetables are created equal. Some pack a stronger punch with more vitamins and minerals per serving, giving you more bang for your buck. Check out this list from Whole Foods to see which vegetables are most nutrient-dense.
STRATEGY: Always store a backup stash of frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
While fresh vegetables from the farm are best, it’s not always possible to get local produce depending on your location and the seasons. This is where using frozen and canned fruits and veggies can really come in handy to keep you eating as healthy as possible, while also providing you with variety. It’s nice to be able to eat blueberries all year round! Look for no salt added when buying canned veggies and no sugar added when buying frozen fruit.
STRATEGY: Include as many colors as you can in your meals, salads, sandwiches, etc.
A more immediate benefit of doing this is that it will not only make your meals much healthier, it will make them much better tasting. Explore the plethora of different vegetables and what each one can do for you. Food can be used as great preventative medicine.
Here are a few suggestions on how to do this:
- Include a salad as a meal every day and add in lean protein, but skip the Ranch dressing!
- Take traditional breads, casseroles, meals and use a vegetable base, like shredded carrotsor zucchini
- Mixed vegetables with your favorite pasta sauces, curries or stir-fried
- Make oatmeal for breakfast and add colorful berries
- Use pureed vegetables (sweet potato, pea, squash) as a base for stews/soups
- Grill vegetable kabobs as part of a barbecue meal
- Stock up on various cut vegetables and hummus or other bean dips for snacks
- Bring fruit to work for snacks maybe adding it to yogurt or having with some nuts for a heartier snack.