Say what? A couple definitions may be in order before we get started with this one. Nutrient dense foods refer to foods that contain a high amount of vitamins and minerals in relation to the amount of calories they contain (think vegetables). Energy dense foods are foods that contain a lot of calories for a given amount of food (think cheeseburger… although healthy foods such as nuts are also energy dense). The key here is not to eliminate energy dense foods, but rather decrease their amount and choose healthier ones most of the time.
There are a few reasons why consuming vegetables at just about every meal is absolutely critical for losing weight, maintaining weight loss (often more difficult than losing it in the first place), and preventing a host of diseases. First, vegetables contain relatively few calories, but a lot of fiber, which is quite filling and will prevent hunger. Second, vegetables contain hefty amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and most likely other protective substances that science has yet to discover. This second point is very important in terms of weight loss/maintenance. Researchers theorize that when diets contain more vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from food (and possibly supplements, but that’s another discussion), the body will be more nourished and consequently you will experience fewer cravings. Anytime your body is deficient in a certain nutrient, it will seek out more food (because food contains nutrients) in an attempt to get that low vitamin or mineral. The body doesn’t seem to care if it comes at the expense of additional calories. Now of course there are other reasons for cravings and I am not saying this will cure all of those late night urges to grab a bag of cookies, but it will absolutely stack the deck in your favour when trying to overcome food cravings and addictions.
The best evidence that we have to support this are observational studies that show people who eat more nutrient dense foods and less energy dense foods tend to fare better in weight loss/maintenance. In a study conducted at Penn State University, the women who ate the lowest energy dense diets gained the least amount of weight despite eating the most amount of food (by weight, not calories) so you won’t have to worry about walking around hungry all day, your portions will be equal to or greater than what you are used to. The best strategy for this is to make half of your lunch and dinner consists of vegetables (not including potatoes, sweet potatoes, or other root vegetables, which are still healthy in moderation, but should be considered more of a carbohydrate food). At breakfast it’s a little more difficult to consume vegetables, so do your best here, but try adding vegetables to an omelet or throwing spinach in a smoothie. If that doesn't work for you, have some antioxidant rich berries in their place. An intruiging quote from Buettner’s book The Blue Zones, which studied the longest living cultures around the world, shows just how simple health and longevity can be, while also demonstrating the importance of vegetables. A 102 year old healthy, active woman named Kamada, had this to say when asked about her secret of longevity, “Eat your vegetables, have a positive outlook, be kind to people, and smile.” Now it doesn’t get much simpler than that.