Weight-loss programs are endless and they entice us – we shelled out $40 billion last year on prepackaged diet meals, supplements and self-help tapes – but when “nutrient-dense” and “perimeter shopping” are on the weekly shopping list, pounds are shed and health improves without forking over heaping amounts of cash on gimmicks.

What are “nutrient-dense” foods?

Nutrients are the healthy substances found in food – minerals, vitamins, fats, protein, carbohydrates and water – that provide energy, assist in tissue growth and repair and keep metabolisms functioning properly. Foods that are nutrient-dense have high amounts of these essential substances, are low in calories but still fill you up. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, blueberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts and carrots are examples of nutrient-dense foods. Salmon, tuna, fresh lean meats, skinless poultry, beans, nuts and low-fat/fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese are also nutrient-dense choices.

What is “perimeter shopping”?

A grocery store’s outer or perimeter walls are frequently stocked with nutrient-dense foods, hence the significance of “perimeter shopping.”  Stick to this area and avoid substantial displays of candies, cookies, potato chips and soft drinks that are loaded with sugar, salt, calories and preservatives but short on the vitamins, minerals and fiber beneficial to weight-control and good health. These “energy-dense” rather than nutrient-dense foods, which do not keep you full for long, are inner aisle staples. If you don’t see them, you won’t be tempted to buy them. Perimeter shopping is good for your health and a wiser use of your grocery dollars.

Health organizations including the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Dairy Council (NDC) have released studies showing that diets loaded with energy-dense foods are harbingers for type-2 diabetes and a host of related ailments. Death, heart disease, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, neuropathy and amputation are all complications of type-2 diabetes. Diabetes and its assorted health issues cost the United States $174 billon in 2007.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a joint publication of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) that is updated every five years, promotes a diet that is nutrient-dense. Additionally, the USDA has developed the MyPyramid.gov website, which is based on those Guidelines and is helpful in determining what and how you should eat.

Nutrient-dense foods will help you stay healthy and satisfied. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods will keep hunger pangs at bay and help you lose weight.  Delicious, nutrient-dense recipes are available on the internet.

Make nutrient-dense food and perimeter shopping a habit and your health will thank you.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]