As some of you are already aware, I am a huge fan of using nutrient density as a determining factor in what I choose to eat. In case you’re not totally clear on what nutrient dense foods are, let me clarify…
In a nutshell, nutrient density is a measure of how many nutrients are present in a certain food per calorie. Nutrient dense foods contain more nutrients per calorie than less nutrient dense foods – in other words, you get the “biggest bang for your buck”.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman developed a ranking system originally called ANDI (aggregate nutrient density index) in which he gave many foods a specific number between zero and one thousand (kale ranked 1,000 – oh yeah). Nutrient density scores were calculated based on how many vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) and phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals) were found in each food per calorie. The more nutrients per calorie, the more nutrient dense the food.
Because scientists are constantly discovering more phytonutrients, Dr Fuhrman updated his list and now choses to score food on a new scale (from 0 to 100) called The Nutrient Density Line (it’s estimated there are over 10,000 phytonutrients present in food – such as the anthocyanins in blueberries and tart cherry juice, the catechins in green and matcha tea and the flavonoids in dark chocolate). The Nutrient Density Line scoring summary is pictured below (don’t worry, kale still sits at the top!).
It should be noted that while nutrient density is a great factor to use in determining what to eat, there are some less nutrient dense foods that are absolutely imperative to our health – for example, fats aren’t very nutrient dense but without adequate (healthy) fats our hormonal, reproductive, cardiovascular and many other systems of the body will suffer.
Keeping that in mind, here are the Top 10 Most Nutrient Dense Foods:
- Kale (and all leafy greens including spinach, cabbage, sprouts, collard greens, chard, endive, mache rosettes and seaweeds such as nori) – Leafy greens: Eat 6 cups leafy greens each day (yes, I just said eat 6 cups of leafy greens each day – don’t freak out, it’s not that hard to reach that number – one green smoothie contains 3-4 cups leafy greens).
- Broccoli (and all green veggies including green string beans, green bell peppers, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, snap peas, celery and zucchini) – Green veggies: 2-3 different green veggies each day.
- Carrots (and all colourful veggies including tomatoes, bell peppers and radishes) – Colourful veggies: 1-2 different colourful veggies each day.
- Mushrooms (and all white veggies including onions, fennel, leeks and garlic) – White veggies: 1-2 different white veggies each day.
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc) – Berries: 1-3 servings of berries each day.
- Because you’re a runner: Tart cherries/tart cherry juice (or pomegranates/pom juice): 1 serving per day.
- Chickpeas (and all beans & legumes including kidney beans, adzuki beans, red & green lentils and black beans) – Beans/Legumes: 1-2 servings per day.
- Hemp hearts (and all seeds such as chia, pumpkin sunflower, sesame and flax) – Seeds: 1-2 servings per day.
- Apples (and all fruit including bananas, oranges and kiwi) – Fruit: Have 1-3 servings fruit (on top of berries) per day.
- Almonds & almond butter (and all nuts and nut butter including pecans, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and peanuts) – Nuts: 1-2 servings per day.
You can see that if you, as a runner, were to attempt to subsist off of only this list of food you may not be eating enough calories. Certainly, Dr. Fuhrman suggests that if a slim or highly physically active individual ate only the highest nutrient foods they would become so full from all of the fiber and nutrients that they would not be able to meet their caloric needs, and they would eventually become too thin.
Therefore, there is most certainly a place in the runners diet for whole grains such as quinoa and spelt; proteins such as organic/sprouted tofu and/or wild salmon and/or organic eggs and/or free-range organic chicken; and fats such as avocado, olives and extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and/or organic butter.
There are so many reasons to ensure you eat nutrient dense foods daily, not least of them being because they will energize you, help you to recover better and faster after workouts and keep you healthy and strong so you can perform your best!
Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers, Sarah | Sarah J Cuff, RHN
PS. Check out Kimberlee Johns inspiring story of training for and running her very first marathon! She had run many half marathons previously but had ended up getting sick before every single one. She was pretty sure that staying healthy would mean a better race performance overall… So she came to me for help in boosting her immune system, as well as her energy levels. Click here to find out what happened and how her first marathon went!