Understanding Food: What are Essential Nutrients? List of Most Nutrient Dense Plant Foods in the World

understanding food - what are essential nutrients - most nutrient dense foods in world

We always hear about how important certain nutrients & foods are. But what exactly are ‘nutrient dense food’ and why is it so essential we get these in our diet? Understanding what nutrients are can help you get the most out of your food – in the form of nutrients. Here we will discuss what nutrients are, why they are so essential and discover what the most nutrient dense plant foods in the world are


What are Nutrients?

Nutrients are the components in foods that an organism utilizes to survive and grow

~ Wikipedia Definition

Humans get nutrients from the foods they eat, whereas plants get nutrients from the soil

Nutrients are used in many metabolic reactions & processes in the body. Each nutrient works synergistically (better with others than when alone) with other nutrients, so is best to consume foods with an abundance of other nutrients too


What makes a Nutrient Essential?

Essential nutrients are nutrients that cannot be synthesised by the body. And since these are the nutrients required for normal body function, it makes them essential and needs to be obtained through the diet. Inadequate intake can lead to nutrient deficiencies

Conditionally essential nutrients are nutrients that are required at certain stages of life eg. children have an increased need for amino acids or requirements for certain nutrients may increase during illness, recovery or pregnancy


What does ‘Nutrient Dense’ mean?

The term Nutrient Density refers to how rich in nutrients a particular food is compared to the amount of energy (which provides calories)

Energy Density, on the other hand, refers to foods that are high in energy and low in nutrients. These foods tend to be high in calories and because they provide little to no nutrients, are also known as ’empty calories’


2 Main Types of Nutrients

Food supplies both nutrients and calories (energy). All calories come from carbohydrates, fats, proteins and alcohol. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are noncaloric nutrient rich food factors


There are two main types of nutrients:

1. Macronutrients which are nutrients that provide the bulk of energy for metabolism to function well, are heavier per gram and make up a large dietary requirement. These are usually measured in grams (g)

These include:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fats (Lipids)
  • Alcohol (we wouldn’t consider this one a healthy nutrient)

2. Micronutrients provide important cofactors for metabolism to be carried out, provide little energy (calories), are a smaller proportion of body mass and have a small dietary requirement. these are usually measured in milligrams (mg)

These Include:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals



Non-Nutrients are compounds found in food that are not considered nutrients but some have a role in disease prevention and are involved in the sensory aspects of food such as taste, aroma and color

These Include:

  • Fibers
  • Phytochemicals
  • Zoochemicals
  • Bioactive Substances
  • Pigments
Some other not so desirable non-nutrients that can get in food are:
  • Additives
  • Natural Toxins
  • Contaminants
  • Agricultural residues


Classes of Nutrients

There are 6 classes of nutrients including:

1. Vitamins

2. Minerals

3. Carbohydrates

4. Water

5. Protein

6. Fats


Watch the following videos to get a better understanding of what nutrients are



Nutrient Dense Foods

Now that we know what ‘nutrient dense foods’ are, let’s find out what kinds of food are highest in nutrients & are the most health-promoting foods


Dr Fuhrman’s Equation

Dr. Fuhrman’s (M.D) ‘Nutritarian Diet’ is structured around his simple health equation:

H (Health) = N (Nutrient intake) / C (Calorie Intake)

This formula represents how ‘nutrient dense’ your diet is and one in which Dr. Fuhrman values as the basis for optimal nutrition & health. Choosing foods with a high nutrient density level ensures that you get adequate nutrients (vitamins, minerals and protective compounds eg. phytochemicals) that can boost your immune system, enhance the body’s detoxification & repair systems and protect against many of the common diseases of western civilization. Additionally, eating these lower calorie foods equates to more weight loss, also benefical for obvious reasons


Dr Fuhrman’s ‘Aggregate Nutrient Density Index’ (ANDI)

Dr. Fuhrman came up with the ANDI which ranks foods according to how many nutrients they provide per calorie consumed. These foods are compared by using a scale of 1-1000, whereby the higher the score, the greater variety of nutrients provided by that specific food. This chart is being used in Whole Foods Market grocery stalls to help people choose these foods with the highest nutrient density. The ANDI is therefore a simple, easy way to help you identify and eat more nutrient dense foods

Buy the ‘Nutritarian Handbook & ANDI Food Scoring Guide’ on Ebay

Understanding Food - What are Essential Nutrients - List of Most Nutrient Dense Plant Foods in the World

Here is a Summary of the Most Nutrient Dense Foods According to Dr. Fuhrman

Notice how the colourful fruits & vegetables rank higher in nutrients

understanding food- what are essential nutrients - most nutrient dense foods in world chart


understanding food- what are essential nutrients - most nutrient dense foods in world densities

Highest Nutrient Densities

Kale & Collard Greens (1000), Bok Choy (824), Spinach (739), Broccoli Rabe (715), Chinese/Napa Cabbage (704), Brussel Sprouts (672), Swiss Chard (670), Argula (559), Cabbage (481), Romaine Lettuce (389), Broccoli (376), Carrot Juice (344), Cauliflower (295), Green Peppers (258), Artichoke (244), Carrots (240), Asparagus (234), Strawberries (212), Pomegranate Juice (193), Tomato (164), Blueberries (130), Iceberg Lettuce (110), Orange (109), Lentils (100), Cantaloupe (100), Kidney Beans (100)

Moderate Nutrient Densities

Sweet Potato (83), Black Beans (83), Sunflower Seeds (78), Apple (76), Peach (73), Green Peas (70), Cherries (68), Flaxseeds (65), Pineapple (64), Chick Peas (57), Oatmeal (53), Pumpkin Seeds (52), Mango (51), Cucumber (50), Soybeans (48), Pistachio Nuts (48), Corn (44), Brown Rice (41), Salmon (39), Almonds (38), Shrimp (38), Tofu (37)

Lower Nutrient Densities

Skim Milk (36), Walnuts (34), Grapes (31), White Potato (31), Banana (30), Cashews (27), Chicken Breast (27), Eggs (27), Peanut Butter (26), Whole Wheat Bread (25), Feta Cheese (21), Whole Milk (20), Ground Beef (20), White Pasta (18), White Bread (18), Apple Juice (16), Swiss Cheese (15), Low Fat Yogurt (14), Potato Chips (11), American Cheese (10), Vanilla Ice cream (9), French Fries (7), Olive Oil (2), Cola (1)


GBOMBS Acronym

The GBOMBS acronym can help you remember these nutrient dense foods

G reens

B eans

O nions

M ushrooms

B erries

S eeds

understanding food- what are essential nutrients - most nutrient dense foods in world GBOMBS

Concluding Remarks

Here we have seen how essential it is to be getting these nutrients in the food we eat. To optimize your health, eat more foods that have a higher proportion of nutrients (nutrient dense foods) than foods with more calories. These can be found predominately from plant based foods. Eating more foods that are ‘nutrient dense’ every day, and choosing from a variety of sources will provide you with many of the essential nutrients including carbohydrates, healthy fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and disease fighting compounds

These types of foods should make up a large proportion of your diet if you want to achieve a diet that that promotes good health & prevents chronic disease. This is why it is important that humans get the proper nutrients needed for health, nourishment & longevity

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