Recently I read an article about density in food. It was written by Dr. John Berardi, the director of Precision Nutrition. (See to read the original article.) I have a great deal of respect for his writing and his ideas, although I can't say I always agree. I'm not suggesting that anything he wrote in this article was wrong, per se, but I believe he told half the story. And the reason is because he only focused on calories.

In the diet and weight loss world, the concept of the calorie is a very mixed blessing. On the one hand, it does give us a way to compare foods. Unfortunately, when we compare foods ONLY using calories, we miss a huge part of the picture. It would be like comparing your friends based on their outfits. Are the best friends always the best dressers? Of course not. (She says, wearing old, red capri sweatpants and a baggy red shirt. Seriously.)

Calories tell us nothing about the nutritional value of a food. Just because marshmallows are low calorie does not mean they should play a starring role in your diet. Empty calories are still empty, even if they are low calorie. In some instances, like diet soda, the calories may be low but the end result (what the product does to your insulin levels, for example) may be detrimental. Calories do not help us determine whether or not we should eat a particular food.

Instead, I believe we need to focus on nutritional density. A product with low calories and zero nutritional benefits is not something we should consume. However, a product which is high calorie but packed with nutrition has an important place in our diets. If this product contains nutrients that create excellent health for our bodies, we should not omit it based on calories alone. Some examples of healthy foods which are high calorie: most cuts of beef, liver, egg yolks, all nuts, grass-fed butter, most cheeses, coconut oil, avocado, fish oil, flax seed oil.

Some folks might like to convince you that you should eat only plant-based foods. Why not? After all, most plants contain more fiber and less calories than animal products. And dark green leafy veggies top the list of superfoods with iron, calcium, and loads of vitamins plus antioxidants. Don't get me wrong! I love kale and collards way more than the next guy, but even the ultra-healthy veggies cannot take the place of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs in our diet. Our bodies absorb nutrients, including protein, iron, and calcium, from animal products much more efficiently and easily than from vegetable sources. Not to mention the QUALITY of the protein differs immensely. Animal products contain very high quality protein with all the essential amino acids which our bodies require. Veggie-based proteins, not so much. And no matter what vitamins and nutrients whole grains might contain, the phytic acids and other anti-nutrients in them block the absorption of those nutrients.

Caloric density certainly matters when you are attempting to lose weight. But it matters a lot less than you think. Filling up on nutritionally empty but low calorie foods will only leave your body starving for nutrition and wreck your health in the name of dieting. This is no solution.

Instead, eat good stuff. Eat real whole foods from a wide variety of plant and animal sources. Eat the entire rainbow of vegetables and fruits. When choosing foods, look to nutrition first and calories second. Portion sizes matter. And so does enjoyment. Choose wisely!