When planning meals, the terms nutrient density and energy density are often referred to. In the following article, we’re going to explain what these mean, so that you’re able to optimise your food intake, which will consequentially bring advantages to your health and well-being. Your exercise performance will also reflect how nutritionally balanced your diet is; arguably, eating habits form the pinnacle part of fitness, and smart food choices can help you achieve your goals in the healthiest way possible.

So, what is meant by nutrient density? Essentially, this indicates the nutritional quality of a food in relation to its weight. For example, there are roughly the same calories in a tablespoon of sugar as there are in a small handful of pumpkin seeds, but whereas the former provides ‘empty’ calories, the latter will also deliver valuable nutrients. Healthy fats, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals can be found for the same calorie value as the former. Comparatively, Sugar causes a rapid rise in blood glucose – with no, additional nutritional benefits to speak of (not to mention its contribution to dental decay).

Energy density, therefore, denotes how many calories a type of food will supply (usually in the form of carbohydrates/sugar, as generally, these are most readily utilised by the body). What this signifies overall is that calories are not all equal, and that different food sources will contribute to health and weight, according to their overall nutritional value. Vegetables, for example, are considered to have a high nutrient density and low energy density, because they provide a spectrum of nutrients, compared with energy dense foods with a low nutrient density of the same weight. White rice is an example of the aforementioned. Foods that are very processed – usually with a high trans fat and salt content – also fall into this category.

Whilst maintaining an accurate check on calories eaten is important for certain individuals with a strict target to reach, it’s likely, more important to focus on nutrition first and foremost – not calories. Adjustments to calorie intake can always be made where necessary; this is also something that tends to be subject to change with progression, whereas a good basis of nutrients in the diet will always be integral to peak physiological (and psychological) condition.

Half of an average pizza provides approximately the same caloric value as a roasted salmon fillet, spinach and sweet potato yet, there is a stark contrast between the nutritional contribution of each. As a rule of thumb, try to make your meals as nutritionally dense as possible!