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The 11 Healthiest, Most Nutrient Dense Foods To Eat Every Day [+ 8 Honorable Mentions]

The main goal with every meal we eat should be nutrient density. The term nutrient density is thrown around a lot, but it's often misused. What we mean when we say "nutrient density" is having the most essential nutrients with the least amount of food.

On the flip side, something is nutrient poor when it requires a lot of food to reach certain levels of important nutrients. Great examples of nutrient poor food includes processed flours and all added sugars. It's due to nutrient poor foods why we can overeat and yet still have micronutrient deficiencies that lead to poor health outcomes.

The nutrients that are the most important are those that most people tend to lack: iron, zinc, folate, vitamin A, calcium and vitamin B12.

These nutrients are crucial because they are important for growth, development, fertility, bone density, oxygen transport and more. The reason why these nutrients in particular must be factored in is because they are often the hardest to get (and therefore are the most common causes of nutrient deficiencies).

A recent 2022 study analyzed all foods to isolate those that are naturally highest in these crucial nutrients.(1) These foods are not only incredibly rich in important micronutrients like those listed above, they're also high in other essential macronutrients, like protein and certain health promoting fats.

Today, I'm sharing the list of the most nutrient dense foods so that you can start creating your plate with these ingredients in mind.

healthiest foods to eat daily

1. Beef

Beef is one of the easiest ways to get iron that can actually be absorbed and used by the body. Considering anemia is a fairly common concern (especially in women) that can lead to serious health conditions, it's very important to prioritize foods rich in bioavailable iron.

Iron found in other foods, like spinach, is very poorly absorbed. So even though you might be "eating a lot of iron", the body isn't actually able to access it efficiently.

I'm particularly a fan of ground beef. Ground beef is very easy to digest and tends to be one of the cheapest cuts. It also ranks high on the satiety scale, making you feel full and satisfied from less food.

Try my healthy shepherd's pie recipe using ground beef by clicking the link below.

2. Milk

Whole dairy milk is high in vitamin A, zinc, calcium and B12. As a side note, whole milk also contains vitamin K2, which helps to get calcium out of the arteries and into the bones, making it crucial for both heart and bone health.(2) Just be sure to choose whole milk as the fat is where most of the nutrients are found. If you're concerned about the saturated fat content and heart disease, it's important to note that the latest research has found that whole milk does not have a detrimental impact on heart health.(3)

The study specifically highlighted milk, but fermented milk products are great ways to receive the benefits of milk without as much lactose. Some of my favorite dairy products include whole milk skyr, greek yogurt, cottage cheese and cheese.

Try my high protein, green smoothie that uses skyr yogurt HERE. (It's super yummy and refreshing!)

3. Eggs

Eggs have been found to be the lowest cost source of bioavailable B12, protein, vitamin A and choline. They're also very high in folate (important for fetal development during pregnancy) and have a moderate level of iron. Just make sure to eat the whole egg! Most of the nutritional value is in the yolk, not the white.

Don't love eggs? Sneak it into your breakfast with my delish chocolate chip protein waffles HERE.

protein waffles

4. Dark Leafy Greens

These include greens such as kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens, bok choy, spinach and collard greens. Although these are high in iron, the iron in dark leafy greens isn't very bioavailable. These greens are great sources of other important nutrients such as folate and beta carotene.

5. Bivalves

Bivalves form a group of foods that include clams, oysters, scallops and mussels. Across the board, bivalves are incredibly nutrient dense. They're considered very high in iron, zinc, vitamin A, calcium and B12. They also contain a moderate amount of folate.

Bivalves contribute to daily protein intake, which is essential for maintaining healthy muscle mass and a stable metabolism.

6. Mutton + Lamb

Sheep is high in iron and very high in zinc and B12. Generally speaking, most sheep are entirely raised on grass, which also helps provide higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.(4) It's also very satiating, which can help to prevent hunger and sugar cravings later in the day.

Try using ground lamb to make mediterranean style meatballs. Yum.

7. Canned Small Fish With Bones

Small fish that are canned without removing their bones are very high in calcium, B12 and zinc. Because the bones are so small and soft, these can be eaten to help bump up daily calcium intake. Small canned fish (like sardines or anchovies) are also very rich sources of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.

8. Organ Meats

Organ meats include liver, heart and kidney. Although these aren't as commonly eaten today, they're some of the most nutrient dense foods you could possibly add to your diet. The liver in particular is very high in iron, zinc, vitamin A, folate and vitamin B12.

If you don't love eating organ meats, you can buy ground beef with organ meats already ground into it, essentially "hiding" it for you in your regular burger or meatball recipes.

9. Crustaceans

This category includes crab, lobster and shrimp, which are very high in zinc and B12. Shrimp is also one of the best sources of iodine, which is important for thyroid health.

10. Small Dried Fish

Small, dried fish are high in all of the important micronutrients, except for folate. Generally speaking, small fish are excellent sources of both micro and macronutrients.

11. Goat

Depending on where you live, this might or might not be a very common ingredient in your meals. Goat is even higher than beef in bioavailable iron. It's also very high in zinc and vitamin B12.

Honorable Mentions

The study concluded with 8 other food items that are still very high in important nutrients, but not quite as high as the top 11 list. Below are those honorable mentions that are amazing sources of micronutrients (as well as protein, for most).

  • Cheese

  • Goat Milk

  • Pork

  • Yogurt

  • Fresh Fish

  • Pulses

  • Teff

  • Canned Fish Without The Bones

Unlock 100+ delish, nutrient dense meals to support your wellness goals with the Complete Intermittent Fasting Bundle HERE😋

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