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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Chow Line: Build diet around nutrient-rich foods (for 1/23/11)

January 14, 2011

I keep hearing about "nutrient-rich" foods. Do you have any ideas on how I could incorporate more into my diet? 

Choosing more nutrient-rich (or "nutrient-dense") foods is how you can get more bang for the buck -- or really, more bounce for the ounce -- from the foods you eat from every good group.

Calorie for calorie, these foods provide a rich amount of nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) and contain few, if any, saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars. For example, a cup of 1 percent milk contains 100 calories and offers a wide variety of nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin and phosphorus, and also a good amount of protein, vitamin B12 and selenium. Compare that to a cup of non-diet soft drink, which has about the same number of calories but no nutrients to speak of.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers other examples on a page on its MyPyramid web site, -- click on "Making Smarter Choices -- Sample Ideas." They include choosing plain fat-free yogurt with fresh fruit instead of sweetened fruit yogurt and skinless chicken rather than chicken with skin.

Other tips for a more nutrient-rich diet include:

  • Make half the grains you eat -- at least 3 ounces a day -- whole grains. Whole-grain foods are made from the entire grain kernel and thus offer the fiber, iron and B vitamins that are removed when grains are milled. Most refined grains are fortified to replace nutrients lost in the processing, but whole grains are still a better bet. Look for "whole grain" (or "whole wheat" or "whole oats," for example) at the top of the ingredients listing in breads, crackers and cereals, and choose whole-wheat pasta instead of regular.
  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Nutritionists recommend choosing produce with a wide variety of colors to get a broad range of nutrients -- the color of fruits and vegetables often indicates what kind of nutrients they contain.
  • Choose baked or roasted meats and vegetables over fried.
  • Replace water with milk when making oatmeal or instant potatoes, and add dry milk to casseroles or gravy. Using milk adds some calories but offers a boost in calcium and other nutrients.

You can find more ideas from the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition,, which provides ideas for adding nutrients to meals -- even when eating out -- as well as shopping lists and a guide to portion control.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Kennel, nutrition program manager for Ohio State University Extension in the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.


Martha Filipic
Julie Kennel