Nutrient density - dense with what?


What's nutrient density?

Within the Real Food programme we often refer to the term 'nutrient density'.This refers to the amount of goodness a real food offers you - goodness in the form of macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. While all real foods are better choices than diversions, there's also some variation in the amount of goodness we get from one food over another.

Real Food Rankings

The Real Food Ranking system shows this variation from the best (short cut) to worst (dead end) food options. This ranking also tends to represent where the best nutrient density is found - in the short cut options;  where less nutrient density is found - in the road blocks; and where the poorest nutrient density is found - the dead ends.

Micro's & macro's

Macronutrients are the main building blocks of our food. We need them all on a daily basis to operate optimally and to maintain best health. These macro's relate directly to Real Food guideline 3: Results on a Plate. By getting a balanced plate every lunch and dinner time it increases our chances of maximising our macronutrient intake.

The macro's are:

  • protein - made up of all the different amino acids.
  • fat - made up of saturated fats, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and essential fatty acids.
  • carbohydrate - made up of sugar, starch and fiber.
superfoods 1
superfoods 1

Micronutrients are the nutrients required in much smaller quantities to support a range of physiological functions in the body and brain. They're still essential for optimal health and most can only be gained through food in the diet. These are essentially our vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.


Phytonutrients are chemical compounds (non-vitamin and non-mineral) in plant foods that still bring significant health benefits. They do jobs within the body such as help prevent mutation of cancer cells, have anti-inflammatory abilities, and improve inter-cellular communication. Before modern medicine these compounds have been used for their medicinal properties.

There are many phytonutrients but we'll focus on 3 major players:

  • Polyphenols - these act as antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties and are anti-allergenic. Tea, nuts and berries are rich sources.
  • Carotenoids - these are the pigments found in red and yellow vegetables. Their main function is as antioxidants, and they are also thought to protect us from cancer. Pumpkins, carrots, kumara, and tomatoes are good examples.
  • Phytoestrogens - these chemicals naturally occur in soy foods, seeds, grains, and some veg and fruit. It is argued that they play a role in hormone related cancers such as prostate and breast cancer.

It is in both macro and micronutrients that real food choices provide the best 'bang for your buck'. They are richer in these components (than their diversionary counterparts) and by eating a balanced, varied, and seasonal selection of foods year round we can ensure best health levels.

It's possible that Hippocrates had it right when he said...

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”