Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nutrient Dense vs. Energy Dense: What's the difference?

Any of you who follow nutrition articles know that registered dietitians often recommending a "nutrient dense" eating pattern. But what is that exactly and which foods fit the bill? How do they differ from "energy dense" foods? As an athlete or active individual, why should you care?

Nutrient Dense
Nutrient dense simply means that in a relatively small quantity of a food, there is a large amount of vitamins and minerals. So, nutritionally you get more "bang for your buck". Nutrient dense foods are important because all metabolic processes in our body rely on adequate levels of vitamins and minerals - especially B-vitamins and Iron and Calcium. If you are an athlete, your body will stay better hydrated, recover more quickly and more efficiently use the food you eat if your intake is based on mainly nutrient dense foods. So which foods are nutrient dense? Here is a short list:

-100% Whole-grain or 100% whole wheat (WW) sources of carbohydrates, such as WW breads, pastas, rices, and rolls. A few great products are Raisin Bran, Kashi cereals, Triscuits, and Rhodes whole wheat bread varieties.
-Lean sources of protein such as grilled chicken, lean ground beef or steak, baked/broiled fish, tuna, beans, and tofu.
-Low-fat dairy sources such as low-fat milk, cottage cheese or yogurt. Greek yogurt is one example of a great product, though make sure it is not loaded with added sugar (same goes for regular yogurts).
-All fresh and dried fruits and vegetables or canned fruits in their own juice (drain the juice).
-Good sources of polyunsaturated fats such as salmon, walnuts, almonds, avocado and flaxseed.

Energy Dense
Energy dense means that in a relatively small quantity of food, there is a large amount of energy...or calories. There may or may not be a large amount of vitamins or minerals...though, typically this phrase is attached to foods that are low in vitamins and minerals and high in calories. Examples include cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy and other sweets as well as chips, fried foods, soda pop, juice drinks and coffee drinks. While foods such as avocado, dried fruit and nuts are in fact energy dense (small volume = high calories), they are also nutrient dense so are a great choice for athletes. Energy dense foods may more quickly replace calories burned during activity, but they lack the valuable nutrients needed for the body's repair and recovery. In addition, these foods tend to be high in saturated and trans fats, which are pro-inflammatory and place the body at an increased risk for illness and injury.

If you love your energy dense foods, choose them carefully. Plan to have 1-2 energy dense foods per week, but be sure to have them on off-days (preferably the day after competition versus the day before) and in small quantities. While they may taste good, they aren't doing any good for your body.

Until next week....Be Extraordinary,


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