Nutrient Density vs. Energy Density

What’s the difference between a nutrient-dense food and an energy-dense food? Nutrition Diva explains.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #320


In other situations, however, foods with high-energy density may be exactly what you're looking for. Athletes, hikers, and astronauts might want foods that deliver the maximum number of calories in the smallest possible package. If you're struggling to gain weight, energy-dense foods such as dried fruit, nuts and avocados can help you increase your calorie intake without over-filling your stomach.

Energy Density Has Nothing to Do with Nutritional Value

Finally, it's important to remember that energy density doesn't take the nutritional value into account at all. A tablespoon of peanut butter has about 100 calories while a tablespoon of jelly has only 50. Peanut butter is a lot more energy dense than jelly - but also a lot more nutrient dense. Even if you're trying to cut calories, I think you'd be better off choosing the peanut butter and finding another place to save 50 calories. 

Because nutrient density takes both nutrition and energy (or calories) into account, it's probably a better guide for overall nutrition. Understanding energy density can also be useful if you're trying to minimize or maximize your caloric intake.

Look in this weekend's newsletter for an Nutrient and Energy Density Cheatsheet that you can use to make the best choices for your goals.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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