Harvard Health Letter

Add more nutrient-dense foods to your diet

Foods such as kale, cantaloupe, and quinoa can boost the amount of nutrients you consume without increasing calories.

Getting enough nutrients through diet is challenging as we age. Our bodies don't absorb nutrients as well as they once did, yet we tend to need fewer calories and eat less. So it's important to make the most out of the foods we do eat. One way is by choosing more nutrient-dense foods, which provide more nutrition bang for the calorie buck. "They contain an abundance of nutrients and other healthful substances—vitamins and minerals, fiber, lean protein, and unsaturated fats—but are not excessive in calories. This is compared with foods of low nutrient density that are high in calories," says Liz Moore, a registered dietitian at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.


If you're not already eating a healthy diet, or you're not eating enough healthy foods, nutrient-dense foods will help fill in the gaps. For example, one slice of white bread has about 70 calories, but very few vitamins and minerals. One slice of whole-wheat bread, however, has about the same amount of calories as white bread, but four times the amount of potassium and magnesium and three times the zinc.

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