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Essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids, are what everyone needs to stay healthy and thrive. What’s the best way to get them? Science offers an answer that applies to almost everyone. Let’s take a closer look at what nutrient density means.

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Food processing matters A LOT

If you want to get a lot of vitamins and minerals you have to consider food processing and its effect on nutrient density. Whole foods that have not been processed very much, like veggies, fruits, fish, eggs, meat, grains, or nuts, are filled with valuable nutrients – they are nutrient-dense. The more processing they go through, the more fibre and valuable nutrients they lose. Processing also increases the chance that the final product will contain more unwanted things like additives, preservatives, fillers, and sugar.

Healthy dinner
It’s true that processed and fast food is often cheaper than wholesome fresh produce. But that doesn’t mean a healthy diet has to be expensive.

Science says you’ll be healthier and slimmer

Scientific research suggests that getting fewer essential nutrients due to food processing can have significant consequences. It has been shown that eating a diet rich in minimally processed whole foods can lead to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, depression, and type 2 diabetes. Whole foods are also usually rich in fibre and protein, which help you feel full. This might be a reason why studies also show food processing might have an effect on body weight. A 2019 trial found that people ate 500 calories more per day when they consumed a diet rich in ultra-processed foods compared to a diet rich in minimally processed whole foods. That’s like eating an extra meal a day!

All good diets have one thing in common

There are a lot of different diets out there, all claiming that they are the best. Science shows that all diets that are done right have one thing in common. They are rich in minimally processed whole foods! For example, a recent study comparing low-fat and low-carb diets showed that there wasn’t much difference between those diets. But it showed significant differences between the healthy and the unhealthy version of both diets. Healthy diet versions included less refined sugar, flours, and other processed foods and more of whole foods like vegetables. Participants on the healthy version of each diet experienced better weight loss, improvements in blood pressure, insulin, glucose, and cholesterol levels compared to those who ate the unhealthy version.

Salad
Foods that are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, water, and fibre will keep you satiated and are the best prevention from any long-term deficiencies. © Profimedia

How can you improve?

It seems very clear that whole foods are better for you than highly processed foods. How can you add more whole foods into your diet? The best approach is to make better choice step by step. You don’t need to cut out all processed food right away. But you should try to choose a less processed version of what you normally eat if you can. Here are a few examples.

Roast chicken made at home is the ideal option, but rotisserie chicken from the supermarket is still better than deep-fried chicken nuggets. You can also easily make boiled or baked potatoes as your side dish instead of fries. Similarly, you can cut up whole apples in your salad instead of pouring in apple sauce. And as for snacks, roasted peanuts are much better than peanut butter cookies.

Next up in 5 Diet Tips That Work for Everyone series