Understand nutrient and energy dense food at your daily meal


The world is changing fast. Food habit and food choice are changing even fasterdue to globalization, introduction of different types, taste& region based commercial foods we actually getting out of our mind to select our meal. But, it is high time; we should give a break to our tongue and make our food choice consciously.

For making conscious choice of food for the betterment of our health, we have to understand our food calories. There are several kinds of foods which may yield a lot of calories and god taste but

Is it ok to consume a lot of calories only because it tastes good? Definitely not. So, in this article we will try to understand some basic concept about energy dense food and nutrient dense food to make conscious food choice for better health considering some key definitions and examples regarding Nutrient density and Energy density.

Nutrient denseisa key term in the dietary guidelines. It means, foods that provide lots of nutrition, like vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. And it also yield with relatively fewer calories. So, you may call it’s kind of a nutrition packed food a more bang for your bucks so to speak that you get lots of, of content without a lot of calories so that’s essentially what it is.

The million dollar question is how we may know if the food is nutrient dense or not. It’s pretty simple.Foods get less nutrient dense by either frying it, which is going to add lots of extra calories without much extra nutrition, or adding extra sugar, or empty calories to food. So we can take sometimes a basically healthy food or a nutrient dense food. And make it less nutrient dense and more energy dense by adding fats, by adding sugar, primarily is the way that, that might happen to a food.

Adequate diets include foods that are nutrient dense. And emphasizing nutrient dense foods is one way that you can assure you’re getting an adequate intake without getting a whole lot of calories. When we emphasize these nutrient dense foods, it doesn’t mean that you eat these exclusively. It just means that they make up the greatest proportion of your food choice. And it is just looking at different foods in terms of their nutritional content, their vitamin, mineral, phytochemical, other food component content versus their calorie intake. Of course, vegetables are going to be on the top. Your leafy greens are some of your most nutrient dense foods. But we also are looking for that in other type vegetables, some of your fruits, berries, beans, legumes.

But at the lower level, we will find refined grains, foods that have a lot of extra sugar added to them. So, foods that may have a little higher fat content are going to fall lower on that nutrient density scale. More likely emphasizing foods that are lower calorie, more nutrition, is going to go a long way to achieving a healthy diet. That concept of energy density that I mentioned is just the number of calories in a gram or a given volume of food. So it’s just a measure of the energy density.

The number of calories in a portion is another way to look at it. Such as- where in 20 grams of potato chips, which is less than an ounce, there’s about 107 calories and so, when we look at that, in terms of calorie content versus weight, the energy density is around 5.4. And we’re going to look at some different foods, and how that energy density might play out. And just kind of show you how fat content, sugar content increases energy density.

Fast foods tend to be typically energy dense, certainly, not all of them. But as a group that’s one challenge with emphasizing a lot of what we would call fast-type foods. They tend to be nutrient poor too, so, you know, you want to emphasize more of these nutrient rich foods. Like vegetables, fruits, whole grains etc. Which don’t tend to be energy dense.

The bottom line is we should make most of our food choices high in nutrient density and low in energy density. High fiber foods tend to be high in nutrient density, low in energy density. High water foods, foods that have a lot of water content, tend to be lower in energy density as well and higher in nutrient density. So, as we have learnt, there were lots of factors that affect us. High fiber, High fat foods, you know, are going to lower the nutrient density, raise the energy density.

MdTanvir Islam is a graduate nutritionist & public health specialist. He has completed his gradation under department of Nutrition and Food Technology of Jessore University of Science & Technology and post-graduation under dept. of Public Health at American International University-Bangladesh (AIUB). He has interest on public health and recent health issues. He can be reached at tetratul@gmail.com

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