Food For Thought

a wooden crate of colorful lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, onion, and carrots

What Should I Eat on a Nutrient-Dense Diet?

Coach Caroline, 06/16/2016

It’s no secret that the standard American diet (SAD) is hazardous to your health.

Most of the foods comprising the SAD foundation—like animal products and refined carbohydrates—are strongly linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and autoimmune illness. Similarly, the foods correlated to a reduction in all the leading causes of death—nutrient-dense powerhouses like leafy greens, fresh fruit, and beans—are conspicuously absent from the typical American fare.

In fact, at the end of the day, we end up consuming about 90% of our calories from processed and animal foods and less than 10% from whole plants.

As you can probably guess, those numbers should be completely reversed. To protect our precious health and maintain a slim profile, we should be eating 90% of our calories from unrefined plant foods and less than 10% from refined and animal foods.

90%? That’s a lot!

If you’re not eating cereal, bread, pasta, olive oil, cheese, grilled salmon, baked chicken breast, and hamburger helper, what DO you eat?

I’m glad you asked.

This is an important question for all aspiring healthy eaters because simply deciding to eat healthier won’t get you far—you need to have a clear plan come mealtime.

First, here are the basics of a nutrient-dense diet style:

Fruit: 3-5 servings/day

Raw Veggies: ½-1 pound/day

Cooked low-starch veggies: ½-1 pound/day

Beans, cooked: ½-1 cup/day

Nuts/seeds: 1 ounce/day

Ground flax seed: 1 heaping tablespoon/day

B12: Thou must not forgo the B12, grasshopper

Optional: Tofu, unsweetened soy/nut milks, oats, other whole grains

The Caveats

The first seven items on the guide above form the basis of a nutrient-dense food plan—they’re non-negotiable. They are what you eat on a high-nutrient diet.

The amounts I have assigned to each food group are geared towards the average overweight American. If you’re like me and get lots of exercise, you’ll need more calories and therefore more food. In that case, add in some starchy veggies like sweet potatoes and winter squash or more of the “optional” foods like nuts, seeds, and beans.

Keep in mind that whole grains (like brown rice, rolled oats, or other whole cereal grains) are not as nutrient-dense as starchy root vegetables.

What’s a Serving?

Another good question, dear reader.  

Since “serving size” differs from one edible plant to the next, I have elected to simplify matters by setting the serving size of any fruit or vegetable at four ounces. Whether I’m chopping apples or asparagus, kiwi or kale, I count four ounces as a serving—so by that measure, you’ll be filling your gullet with between seven to thirteen servings of fruits and veggies a day, more if you’re active.

Why Should I Eat So Many Fruits and Veggies?

Well, if you’re only eating a little over a pound of fruits and veggies, you won’t get enough calories unless you fill up on something else—chips and queso, anyone? Also, most of us have spent a lifetime eating a low-nutrient diet, and our overweight, undernourished bodies have suffered for it.  

Luckily, cancer, heart disease, and damage from free radicals don’t fare well under the influence of fruits and veggies loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals. Since you must have calories to continue living, you’re much better off acquiring them from low-calorie, high-nutrient cuisine.


Did you know that long-time vegans can die from heart disease? That’s right. When B12 levels drop too low, homocysteine levels rise, and voila—you find yourself in cardiac ICU with a bunch of meat eaters! Also, low B12 can cause irreversible nerve damage.


But please don’t let yourself be derailed by advocates of the paleo diet who rationalize, “You need B12. B12 only comes from animal sources. Therefore, you should eat animal products.”

I say, why take on the multitude of risks associated with animal product consumption when you can pop a tasty little sublingual of B12 every other day and be done with it?

Ground Flax Seed

As a nutrient-dense consumer, ground flax seed should be your go-to source for high-fiber, lignin-rich, mercury-poor omega 3s. Make sure you’re eating the seed, not the oil. As with all other oils, flax oil is a high-calorie refined product. Many of its beneficial compounds are removed in the refinement process!

The fats in flax seed are somewhat temperamental, so either grind them daily while preparing your meal or store ground flaxseed in an opaque, non-metal container in the fridge or freezer.

The Gist

Transitioning from your current way of eating to the menu above will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and maximize your health potential—it’s a two for one deal!


To learn more about a nutriend dense diet, schedule a free session with one of our expert nutrition coaches.


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