Four of the world's healthiest, most nutrient-dense foods revealed

Potassium and unsaturated fatty acids are abundant in pistachio nuts. Both have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Picture: Pexels

Potassium and unsaturated fatty acids are abundant in pistachio nuts. Both have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Picture: Pexels

Published Aug 21, 2023


Although you may not be familiar with the phrase “nutrient density,” you are probably already aware of the idea of eating primarily nutrient-dense meals.

According to research by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the typical South African diet is nutrient- and energy-poor. And by “energy”, we really mean “calories”.

The phrase “empty calories” refers to foods that have a lot of calories but nothing in the way of nutritious value.

A healthy diet relies on a variety of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre, and necessary fatty acids for the proper growth and development of the body. It is not simply about the number of calories consumed.

Nutrient-dense foods, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration, are high in vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, including fibre, lean protein, and healthy fats while being comparatively low in calories.

According to studies, eating foods that are high in calories but poor in nutrients can result in nutrient deficiencies as well as health issues like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, non-fat and low-fat dairy, fish, seafood, unprocessed lean meat, skinless chicken, nuts and legumes are all included in this list.

The quantity of nutrients you receive per calorie consumed is the fundamental idea behind nutritional density.

Imagine that you are trying to choose between two packages of bread by examining the labels.

Each slice offers roughly 80 calories, but not much in the way of vitamins and minerals. Although the whole-grain version has around the same amount of calories, it also has more protein, three times as much magnesium, more than twice as much fibre, potassium, vitamin B6, and zinc.

The option that is higher in nutrients is the whole-grain option.

Meal planning and nutrition tactics might benefit from knowing which meals are nutrient-dense. However, it's crucial to keep in mind that no one food can give you all the nutrients you require, so a diversified diet is always the best option.

When trying to control your weight, it makes sense to choose foods that provide the most nutrients overall and in the widest variety.

You must first refrain from consuming foods that are heavily processed and have little nutritious value.

Start to consider including some of the following in your diet.


Due to the high percentage of mono-unsaturated fats in nuts, they are particularly nutrient-dense foods.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation's study demonstrates how these beneficial fats are crucial for a number of body processes, including cell proliferation and organ protection. They differ structurally from unhealthy fats like trans and saturated fats.

In addition to being high in protein, nuts also include a variety of additional vitamins, minerals, fibre, carotenoids, antioxidants, phytosterols, folate and other vitamins and nutrients.

Unsalted almonds, pistachios, and walnuts are the three types of nuts that are the healthiest. A healthy diet can easily include nuts as a snack in between meals or as a topping for salads and vegetables.

Sweet potato

Sweet potatoes are a great source of nutrition and energy. Their level of complex carbs is high. Compared to simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugars, this form of carbohydrate requires more time to digest.

Consequently, sweet potatoes provide long-lasting energy.

A variety of additional minerals, including vitamins A, B-6, and C, are found in sweet potatoes, according to research from the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Additionally, they contain antioxidants like beta-carotene. According to Medical News Today, antioxidants are substances that have a number of health advantages and may lower the risk of developing chronic diseases like cancer.

Sweet potatoes can be boiled, roasted, fried, or included in the main course as a side dish. However, it is better to boil rather than bake a sweet potato and to consume the skin in order to reduce the rise in blood sugar levels.


Salmon is an oily fish with a number of health advantages. Wild Atlantic salmon is a fantastic source of protein, containing roughly 20 g per 100 grammes (g), according to WebMD.

Building and repairing cells and body tissue are just a few of the many biological processes that protein supports. Protein also serves as an energy source.

It is a necessary nutrient for human health, meaning that the body needs it to operate but is unable to manufacture enough of it on its own.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another crucial vitamin that salmon offers. Omega-3 fatty acids assist a number of bodily processes and may lower the risk of heart disease.

According to study, salmon is a wonderful source of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and selenium as well as vitamins B-12 and D. Salmon that has been smoked can increase the nutritional value of a salad or be eaten as a garnish over cucumber slices.


Beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts all fall within the category of legumes, often known as pulses. Dietary fibre, which is vital for digestive health, is abundant in these foods.

They are suitable for a vegan or vegetarian diet because they are one of the best plant-based protein sources.

In addition to having a low glycemic index and load, research from Diabetes South Africa shows that legumes are another type of complex carbohydrate that can give the body long-lasting energy.

This quality enables the body to utilise legumes as fuel without elevating blood glucose levels, aiding in the prevention or treatment of diabetes.

Iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B, and antioxidants are among the minerals found in legumes.

It is feasible to prepare many varieties of legume as the main protein source in a vegetarian meal. It is advisable to soak and pressure boil beans to lower the antinutrient content since they include phytates, lectins, and other antinutrients that interfere with the body's capacity to absorb nutrients.

Although including these foods in your diet can help it become healthier, the optimal diet will always be one that includes as many different fresh foods as you are able to buy and access, as no one meal can give your body all the nutrients it requires.