Nutrient Density Part One

Our Registered Dietitian at Movara, Emily Fonnesebeck, has prepared a three-part blog post on the topic of nutrient density. Emily’s lectures are always packed with insightful and helpful information. I am excited that she has prepared this series just for our blog readers!

Nutrient Density Part One

by Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD

While at the Resort, you attend a lecture to learn the principles of Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density. Calories are a currency most people understand so as you understand the relationship between the two, it can provide a framework for building meals that will allow you to meet your goals. The most common goal we see among our guests is weight loss and by increasing the overall nutrient density of your meals, you will feel more full and satisfied while keeping calorie density lower. This blog post is to serve as a refresher for those of you who have attended the lecture or to provide an understanding of our food philosophy for our future guests.

There are two types of receptors in your stomach, stretch receptors and density receptors. Both of these play a large role in helping you feel full and satisfied from your meals. The goal then would be to trigger both of them in order to get the most out of your meals. Stretch receptors, as you could probably guess, sense stomach stretch. As you chew your food and swallow it, food goes to your stomach, the stomach is stretched and these receptors send hormones to your brain signaling that you are eating and getting full. A high volume meal is key to trigger these receptors, but the trick is to trigger them with foods that are nutrient dense rather than calorie dense. As an experienced eater, you recognize that this is a large part of satisfaction! Before you ever start eating, you want to look at your plate and feel that there is enough food. Therefore, volume contributes greatly to both physiological and psychological satisfaction (1,2).

Research reveals that each of us eat about the same amount of food per day, about 3-5 pounds by weight on average. Obviously this varies depending on size, gender and activity level with some individuals needing less than 3 and some individuals needing more than 5. But taking that average will help us compare nutrient density and calorie density (1). Foods that are high in volume are foods high in water and fiber content. These foods are nutrient dense, or high in nutrition when we compare calories per pound. Since we average 3-5 pounds of food each day, increasing the nutrient density per pound and decreasing the calorie density per pound can help us manage our weight. In addition, foods high in nutrient density will be as they sound – high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and water – high in nutrition. These compounds are what heal and repair the body from oxidative damage and inflammation therefore preventing or treating chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and the like. Let’s take a look at the different food groups and were they fall in terms of nutrient density vs calorie density (1,2):

  • Vegetables = 100 calories/lb
  • Fruit = 300 calories/lb
  • Whole, intact grains and starchy vegetables = 500 calories/lb (brown rice, oats, wheat, barley, spelt, quinoa, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc)
  • Beans = 600 calories/lb
  • Animal products = 1,000 calories/lb (dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, poultry – a large variety and this is an average)
  • Processed complex carbohydrates = 1,400 calories/lb (whole grain breads, whole grain crackers, whole grain cereals, etc)
  • Processed, packaged foods = 2,300 calories/lb
  • Nuts and seeds = 2,800 calories/lb (avocado is included here)
  • Oils and fats = 4,000 calories/lb

In Part Two of Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density, we will dive further into these food groups. Come back soon!

-Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

For part two click HERE

For part three click HERE


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,