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How to Meet Nutrient Needs When Restricting Calories

If you're cutting calories to lose weight, you have to get the most out of every calorie. Nutrition Diva has tips on how to maximize nutrients when restricting your food intake.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,

 

Q. "I have been on a weight loss journey for the past 2 years and have grown very passionate about nutrition and health. But I've found that it's really hard to reach the recommended amounts for a lot of nutrients when I am restricting my food intake. For example, I usually get enough fiber and protein, but I only get 3/4 of many other nutrients like potassium and various vitamins. Since I am losing weight, is it okay that I'm not reaching my daily recommended amounts of nutrients?"

A.  While you're probably not at risk of severe malnutrition, it's certainly not ideal. A lot of people - not just dieters - fall short of the recommended intake of many nutrients. The difference is that you're actually paying attention and striving to do better. Good for you!  But, as you've discovered, the more you restrict your food intake, the more important it is that every calorie pull its weight nutritionally.

This problem is felt most acutely by people who practice calorie restriction as a life extension strategy. These folks are cutting calories pretty drastically, not in order to lose weight (although most of them get pretty thin) but in the hopes of extending their lifespan. Getting enough nutrients becomes quite challenging. There's a website called Cronometer (CRON stands for Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition) that was designed specifically with these folks in mind. It provides tools that help them track their intake of nutrients and then helps them find foods that can fill in any gaps. 

While the advanced tools on Cronometer require a paid subscription, there are other tools out there that are free. It sounds like you've already found something that tracks your nutrient intake for you. To find foods that are high in the nutrients you are falling short on, check out the USDA's recently revamped nutrient database , which allows you to search the database by nutrient content and filter the results by food group.

Are there resources that you've found to be helpful for finding foods to fill nutrient gaps? 

Nutritiondata.com is another free resource that a lot of people like. Although they have some great tools, the website is unfortunately no longer kept up-to-date with the latest nutrient data. At this point they're about 6 years behind.

Let me also throw this out to the Nutrition Diva community: Are there resources you've found to be helpful, not just in tracking your nutrient intake but in helping identify foods to fill nutrient gaps? Post them in the Comments below.

There may also be a simpler solution: To maximize nutrient intake, choose mostly or only nutrient-dense foods. Fresh vegetables are the all-stars here, delivering maximum nutrients for minimal calories. You'll want to include other whole foods as well, such as lean meat, fish, low-fat dairy products, fruit, legumes, and healthy fats from nuts, avocado, olive oil, and so on.

Obviously, the less you eat, the less room you have for empty calories, such as sodas, sweets, and things made with refined grains. 

Thanks for writing and keep up the good work. And, as you get closer to your goal, here's an article you might find helpful: How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau

See also: Healthy Foods That Help You Lose Weight

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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