Nutrient Density Part Three

Emily Fonnesbeck

In Part One we discussed how to feel full and satisfied and Part Two worked through the comparisons between nutrient density and calorie density. In this final part of the series, let’s make a meal!

In order to trigger both your stretch receptors and density receptors while increasing nutrient density and decreasing calorie density, we recommend using the following plate method:

We encourage making ½ your (8 inch) plate fruits and vegetables, ¼ complex carbohydrate and ¼ lean protein, while also including added fats. Here would be the breakdown with portion sizes PER MEAL:

  • Lean Protein: 3-6 oz cooked, 3 oz is the size of the palm of your hand
  • Complex Carbohydrate: ½-1 cup cooked, ½ cup is the size of your fist
  • Fats: 1-2 tbsp, 1 tbsp is the size of your thumb – examples would be dressings, sauces, gravies, oils, butter, etc
  • And choose a fruit and/or vegetable to go with it.

We understand that most of our guests or readers are aiming for weight loss. If so, referring to our list for Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density, aim to make ¾ of your plate from the first four food groups (vegetables, fruit, whole intact grains and starchy vegetables and beans), using the remaining food groups (animal products, nuts and seeds, oils and fats) as flavor enhancers, for texture and for garnish. This will satisfy your need for volume, as well as your need to move up the scale in calorie density to trigger density receptors (1,2). This will allow for a big picture approach to food and prevents the need to get nit picky. The foods often villainized become less of an issue when you approach them in a balanced way. What matters most is what you are doing most of the time, consistently making your plate look like this. It matters less if you use a bit of butter on your vegetables when ½ of your plate is full of them. It matters less if you choose to have a fluffy white roll with dinner when it’s ¼ of your plate and that plate includes a lean protein and lots of fruits and vegetables. It matters less if you choose to have pizza for dinner when you balance it with a high nutrient dense and low calorie dense salad that takes up ½ your late. Aim for consistency and keep a “big picture” approach. It will keep you sane! With this approach, 75% of your plate is coming from the ground. In the research it’s called a plant-based diet and we have great data on the health benefits of this approach. “Studies exploring the risk of overweight and food groups and dietary patterns indicate that a plant-based diet seems to be a sensible approach for the prevention of obesity in children. Plant-based diets are low in energy density and high in complex carbohydrate, fiber, and water, which may increase satiety and resting energy expenditure.”

“[Plant Based Diets] caused more calories to be burned after meals, in contrast to [non plant-based diets] which may cause fewer calories to be burned because food is being stored as fat”

“The future of health care will involve an evolution toward a paradigm where the prevention and treatment of disease is centered, not on a pill or surgical procedure, but on another serving of fruits and vegetables.”

“plant-based eating may successfully control weight, prevent and treat type II diabetes, help prevent an abdominal aortic aneurysm, prevent gallstones, improve cognition, prevent age related macular degeneration, cataracts, slow aging, raise childhood IQ, improve body-odor, reduce waist circumference, reduce allergies, reduce abdominal fat, and cut down on the need for drugs and surgery. Plant-based diets are also beneficial for the prevention and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, and diabetes (3).”

I believe this data speaks to our ability to work with our body’s natural chemistry rather than against it. Instead of dieting and counting calories (being at war with yourself), eating nutrient dense (based on the plate method) can actually increase your metabolic rate and will help you feel full and satisfied while contributing to weight and chronic disease management (letting your head and your body be on the same team). We hope the information in this 3 part series will allow you to make informed decisions that help you meet your health and wellness goals.


1. Barbara Rolls, The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet (New York: Harper Collins, 2012).

2. “A Common Sense Approach to Sound Nutrition,” Jeff Novick, RD, accessed October 12th, 2013,

3. Philip J Tuso, Mohamed H Ismail, Benjamin P Ha, and Carole Bartolotto. “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets,” The Permanente Journal, no. 17 (2013): 61-66.