What Is A Nutrient-Dense Food?
Food fulfills three basic needs: (1) to provide energy; (2) to support new tissue growth and tissue repair; and (3) to help regulate metabolism. These three requirements are met by components of foods called "nutrients", which consist of six classes: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Foods that are "nutrient dense" supply a significant amount of these nutrients for their calories. A high-performance sports diet emphasizes nutrient-dense carbohydrates necessary to maintain muscle glycogen - the primary fuel for most sports.
Such foods as whole-grain breads and cereals, rice, beans, pasta, vegetables, and fruits are thus considered to be nutrient dense because they not only are high in carbohydrates but supply other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber.
By comparison, sweet foods that are high in sugar, such as candy bars, donuts, and cookies, contain carbohydrates but they are not considered nutrient dense because they are also high in fat and contain only insignificant amounts of vitamins and minerals. This is why such foods are often referred to as supplying "empty" calories.
Nutrient-dense carbohydrates have another advantage over fats and sugary foods. Because they contribute significantly fewer calories for a given amount than foods with a high fat or sugar content, nutrient-dense carbohydrates actually contribute to weight-loss.