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The nutrient density approach to healthy eating: challenges and opportunities

  • Theresa A Nicklas (a1), Adam Drewnowski (a2) and Carol E O’Neil (a3)

Abstract

The term ‘nutrient density’ for foods/beverages has been used loosely to promote the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defined ‘all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas (legumes), and nuts and seeds that are prepared without added solid fats, added sugars, and sodium’ as nutrient dense. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans further states that nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals and other substances that may have positive health effects with relatively few (kilo)calories or kilojoules. Finally, the definition states nutrients and other beneficial substances have not been ‘diluted’ by the addition of energy from added solid fats, added sugars or by the solid fats naturally present in the food. However, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and other scientists have failed to clearly define ‘nutrient density’ or to provide criteria or indices that specify cut-offs for foods that are nutrient dense. Today, ‘nutrient density’ is a ubiquitous term used in the scientific literature, policy documents, marketing strategies and consumer messaging. However, the term remains ambiguous without a definitive or universal definition. Classifying or ranking foods according to their nutritional content is known as nutrient profiling. The goal of the present commentary is to address the research gaps that still exist before there can be a consensus on how best to define nutrient density, highlight the situation in the USA and relate this to wider, international efforts in nutrient profiling.

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Corresponding author

* Corresponding author: Email tnicklas@bcm.edu

References

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The nutrient density approach to healthy eating: challenges and opportunities

  • Theresa A Nicklas (a1), Adam Drewnowski (a2) and Carol E O’Neil (a3)

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