What is Nutrient Density?

Families, Food and Fitness September 25, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Author: Ingrid K. Adams, PhD, Assistant Professor, Kentucky Cooperative Extension System, University of Kentucky

What is Nutrient Density?

You may have heard the term "nutrient dense." What exactly does that mean? Nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals, and other substances that may have positive health effects with relatively few calories. The term "nutrient dense" indicates that the nutrients and other beneficial substances in a food have not been "diluted" by the addition of calories from added solid fats, added sugars, or added refined starches, sodium, or by the solid fats naturally present in the food. Ideally, they also are in forms that retain naturally occurring components, such as dietary fiber. All vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and lean meats and poultry - when prepared without adding solid fats or sugars - are nutrient-dense foods. For most Americans, meeting nutrient requirements within their calorie needs is an important goal for health. Eating nutrient-dense foods, in the recommended amounts, from each food group is the best approach to achieving this goal and building a healthy eating pattern.

For example:

High-nutrient dense food

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fat-free milk
  • Whole-grain products

Low-nutrient dense foods

  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Pastries
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • High-fat meats such as bacon

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Accessed February 16,2011 from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf

For additional information supporting the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, visit:


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.