What do people mean when they label a food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
Typically they are referring to its nutrient density. Nutrient density is the amount of nutrients the food has compared to its energy content (calories).
Foods with high nutrient density have a lot vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients, but are lower in calories. Nutrient dense foods are extremely important for EVERYONE, regardless of your nutritional goals. Consuming a diet high in nutrient dense foods ensures that you will reap the benefits of a healthy diet. Not only do these foods pack a ton of micronutrients, they also provide more satiety than foods with low nutrient density. If you are eating in a calorie deficit, it is especially important you prioritize nutrient dense foods to prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Foods with low nutrient density are known as calorie dense foods. Often, these are the foods people refer to as ‘bad’. This is because calorie dense foods are high in added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, but do not have many vitamins or minerals. They may taste great, but the only nutritional benefit they provide is energy (calories).
Lets be clear, there are no ‘bad’ foods. It is all dependent on the portion size. We recommend that you consume a diet high in nutrient dense foods, but calorie dense foods can certainly be fit in. Restriction almost always leads to failure. In order to be successful, you have to find a good balance for you.
Nutrient dense foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat/fat-free milk products, fish, lean meats
Calorie dense foods/low nutrient density foods: butter, dried fruit, white refined grain products, ice cream