The Most Nutrient-Dense Foods (per Calorie)

A short list of nutrient-dense foods tailored to your goals and preferences is the simplest way to start your journey of Nutritional Optimisation and move toward optimal health and weight loss. 

This article will give you access to a wide range of nutrient-dense food lists to empower you to get all the micronutrients you need from your food. 

If you’re impatient, you can download our nutrient-dense food bundle here.  Or keep reading to learn more. 

But First… What Is Nutrient Density? 

Nutrient density is the sum of all the essential micronutrients per calorie in a food or meal.  

If you’re on a tight budget, you want to get the ‘best bang for your buck’. 

If your goal is to maximise your metabolic health, satiety and vitality, it makes sense to spend your limited energy budget wisely by choosing the most nutrient-dense foods that also align with your goals and preferences. 

What Are Nutrient-Dense Foods?

Nutrient-dense foods contain more of all the essential micronutrients per calorie. 

Nutrient-dense foods allow you to pack more of all the essential vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids into your daily energy budget to crush your cravings and control your appetite!   

Most people tend to think in terms of the amount of a single micronutrient per gram of food (e.g. how much magnesium is in 100 g of spinach).  But nutrients usually don’t come alone (unless they come in a pill)! 

If you follow this overly simplistic one-nutrient-at-a-time approach, you’re sure to exceed your daily calorie budget to get your required minimum intake of all essential micronutrients.  This is far from optimal, especially if you don’t want to gain weight! 

Alternatively, you could fork out your hard-earned cash for expensive supplements hoping they will give you the same benefit as the micronutrients found in nutritious whole food (hint: they don’t).­­ 

The Downside of Nutrient-Dense Foods         

Nutrient-dense meals empower you to pack more of all the essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and amino acids into the tasty meals you will love eating! 

But it’s worth noting that nutrient-dense foods are more satiating and harder to overeat, so you may not be able to live on them exclusively — most people need some extra energy over the long term.  To help you manage this ‘problem’, we’ll show you how you can prioritise nutrient density regardless of your context, goal, conditions, or preferences.  

This personalised approach to optimising nutrient density has helped thousands of people in our Micros Masterclass dial in their nutrients to control their cravings, lose weight, and regain their zest for life. 

Why Should You Prioritise Nutrient-Dense Foods? 

While everyone is in a hurry to overhaul their diet and reach their goals, we tend to find that Nutritional Optimisation works best when people take it slowly by progressively adding new foods they want to try. 

Adding a few nutrient-dense foods to your daily repertoire will ensure you get your priority nutrients while staying under your energy budget. 

Because nutrient-dense foods pack more nutrients per calorie, they will satisfy your cravings and increase satiety.  Therefore, you will want to eat less without unsustainable restriction and willpower.  

Nutrient-Dense Foods Chart

There are never-ending arguments over whether low-carb vs low-fat or plant-based vs animal-based dietary approaches are better for you.  But sadly, these endless debates don’t consider the most crucial component of nutrition: nutrients.  Once digested, your body doesn’t care where the nutrients come from; it just needs enough of them.

Nutrient-Dense Foods – Carbs vs Fat

Nutrient-dense foods are spread across the carbs-vs-fat landscape. 

The chart below shows more than three hundred popular whole foods in terms of net carbs vs fat.  To dive into the details of this chart, check out the interactive Tableau version.  There, you can mouse over each point for more information. 

The colours on the chart represent nutrient density.  The most nutrient-dense foods are shown in green, while less-nutrient-dense foods are shown in red. 

As you might have noticed, foods with less fat and carbs towards the bottom left corner tend to provide more of all the essential micronutrients per calorie.   

Although many online groups are dedicated to high-fat or high-carb dietary approaches, these extremes—or a combination of the two—tend to be the least nutritious. 

We tend to find the people who do the best in the process of Nutritional Optimisation forage for nutrients across the plants-vs-animal and carb­-vs-fat landscapes. 

Here are some simple tips to help you find foods that work for your goals: 

  • If you know you have blood glucose issues, or if your blood sugars rise by more than 30 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) after meals, you will want to choose lower-carb foods towards the left. 
  • If your blood sugars are great and you need more carbs to fuel explosive activity, you can select from the higher-carb foods towards the right of the chart.  
  • But if you want to maximise satiety and nutrient density, you will want to choose from the most nutrient-dense foods towards the bottom left corner.  These foods contain more protein, more fibre, and more essential micronutrients. 

Nutrient-Dense Foods – Nutrients vs Energy

To look at this another way, the chart below shows the same foods in terms of nutrient density versus energy (from fat and non-fibre carbs).   Again, to dive into the details of this chart, check out this interactive Tableau version.

If your goal is greater satiety and weight loss, you want to select foods with less energy (from fat and carbs) and more protein and fibre per calorie.  To get more nutrients per calorie, you should select more foods shown towards the right of this chart. 

What Are the Most Nutrient-Dense Foods?

The tables below rank the popular nutrient-dense, plant-based, animal-based, and seafood based on their nutrient density score.    

Nutrient-Dense Plant-Based Foods

Swiss chard81%
bok choy80%
Brussels sprouts67%
snow peas66%
alfalfa sprouts64%
green beans60%
tossed salad60%
dill pickles60%
sour pickles60%
green peas59%
green peppers58%
coriander (cilantro)57%
bell peppers52%
butternut squash51%

Nutrient-Dense Animal-Based Foods

beef liver80%
chicken liver78%
lamb liver74%
whole egg65%
ground pork (lean)63%
duck eggs63%
pork ribs62%
chicken leg60%
chicken thigh60%
milk (low-fat)60%
sirloin steak (fat not eaten)60%
roast beef59%
lamb roast57%
chicken drumstick57%
filet mignon55%
pork chops55%
pork roast55%
chicken breast (no skin)54%
rib-eye steak (fat eaten)53%
sirloin steak (fat eaten)53%
ground beef (90% lean)52%
pork steak51%
ground beef (85% lean)50%

Nutrient-Dense Seafood


If you want to learn more about our unique approach to calculating nutrient density, keep reading. 

Your Nutritional Safety Factor

In engineering, we work to balance safety and cost by applying a safety factor. 

You probably wouldn’t feel safe driving a truck across a bridge if you knew it had been designed for the absolute minimum cost! 

Although scientists and engineers have used materials like steel and concrete for a long time, there are still many unknowns in the building world.

Similar to how we apply a safety factor when building roads, dams, or highways, we can also apply a safety factor to our nutrient intake targets.  Doing so accounts for the many unknowns that could affect how your body absorbs and uses varying nutrients in different circumstances.

The Essential Average Requirements (EAR) and Adequate Intakes (AI) are the absolute minimum intakes required to prevent diseases of deficiency and death.  

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) are a step up but only meet the minimum requirements of 97.5% of the population.  The reality is that nutrition is still only a young science, and there is still a lot we don’t know about how the nutrients in your food interact in our body and how much we need for different conditions. 

While aiming for the official minimum targets might keep you evading death, we can increase our nutritional safety factor (and health) by ensuring we get more than the merely absolute minimum nutrient intake. 

The Optimal Nutrient Intakes

We developed our Optimal Nutrient Intakes (ONIs) as stretch targets based on what our data shows to provide the greatest satiety.  Aiming for these ONIs will help you reverse (or avoid) energy toxicity while optimising mitochondrial function and metabolic health.

The Optimal Nutrient Intakes (ONIs) shown in the left-hand column of the table below are the quantities of each nutrient (per 2000 calories) that consistently align with optimised health and greater satiety based on our analysis.  The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) or Adequate Intake (AI) levels shown are the minimum intakes required to prevent deficiency diseases in most people.   

NutrientONIDRI or AIUnits
vitamin A100002333IU
vitamin E2515mg
vitamin D1200600IU
vitamin C35075mg
thiamine (B1)31.1mg
riboflavin (B2)61.1mg
niacin (B3)6014mg
pantothenic acid (B5)125mg
vitamin B651.3mg
vitamin B12122.4mcg
vitamin K1110090mcg

How Is Nutrient Density Calculated? 

The following chart from our Nutrient Optimiser app shows how we calculate nutrient density.  The black vertical line represents 100% of the Optimal Nutrient Intake per 2000 calories for each essential micronutrient for a week of food logging in Cronometer.  So, if a food provides 100% of every micronutrient’s Optimal Nutrient Intake, it will score 100%.  If a food contains more nutrients above the 100% threshold, they are not counted. 

In our Micros Masterclass, Optimisers use the same approach to show how well someone is hitting their micronutrient targets.  While some people can reach a Diet Quality Score of 100%, it’s not easy and requires a well-planned conglomerate of various foods from all across the carbs vs fat spectrum. 

If you’re interested in finding out which nutrients you’re currently getting less of than you need for optimal health, you can take our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge

Finding YOUR Optimal Balance

While plant-based foods like watercress, spinach, and asparagus provide many of the essential nutrients with very few calories, the downside is that they’re tough to overeat.  You’ll probably explode before obtaining your daily energy requirements!  

Hence, we need to incorporate less nutritious foods to obtain enough energy to survive.  Seafood and animal-based foods typically contain complementary nutrients to fill in the gaps in your micronutrient fingerprint from plant-based foods (and vice versa).  

Micronutrient Fingerprint Charts

To illustrate, the micronutrient fingerprint chart below shows the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids provided by the most nutrient-dense foods listed in the tables above.     

For comparison, the following fingerprint chart shows the nutrients provided by our high-fat (therapeutic keto) foods list.  While a therapeutic keto diet may be helpful for people with epilepsy, cancer, or a neurodegenerative condition, they’re not packed with nutrients per calorie.

The following fingerprint chart shows the nutrients in our plant-based food list in terms of the Optimal Nutrient Intake.  At the bottom of the chart, you can see that plant-based foods provide heaps of vitamin K1, folate, manganese and vitamin C.  However, they tend to be much lower in nutrients like vitamin B12, omega 3, selenium, and many amino acids. 

The micronutrient fingerprint chart below for the carnivore (meat only) food list shows that animal-based foods are lower in many of the plentiful micronutrients in plant-based foods. 

We understand that everyone has different goals, preferences and requirements, so we’ve designed a wide range of food lists to suit your needs. 

In the following section, we’ll introduce all of our nutrient-dense food lists which are tailored to these different goals and preferences. 

Nutrient-Dense Foods Lists Tailored to Your Goals and Preferences

The chart below shows where our various nutrient-dense food lists sit on the carbs-vs-fat landscape. 

Based on nutrients per calorie, we see the high-fat therapeutic keto food list (top left, in red) has the lowest nutrient density, while the food lists rich in fibre and protein (lower left, in green) have the highest.  For more detail on the chart above, you can check out the interactive Tableau version here.

The following chart shows our food lists on the energy (fat + net carb) vs protein landscape.  In this one, therapeutic keto sits in the bottom right (red), and maximum nutrient density sits on the middle left (dark green).  You can check out the interactive Tableau version of this chart here

Nutrient Fingerprint Charts

Over the past five years, we’ve been on a quest to empower more people to get the nutrients they need from their food. 

Simple food lists are the simplest way for people to begin their journey toward Nutritional Optimisation

The table below shows a section of our nutrient-dense food lists ranked by their nutrient density score.  To learn more, you can click on any name in the left-hand column to see its micronutrient fingerprint chart

ProteinFatNet CarbsFibreScore
max nutrient density45%15%20%20%99%
autoimmune paleo55%25%9%10%98%
high protein:energy62%18%10%9%98%
low fat25%7%46%22%88%
blood sugar & fat loss41%56%2%1%82%
carnivore (meat only)57%41%2%0%75%
low carb & blood sugar32%64%2%1%74%
athletes & bulking15%38%42%5%72%
nutritional keto22%76%2%1%59%
therapeutic keto13%84%2%1%42%

Download All the Nutrient-Dense Food Lists

You can download our food lists—for specific goals, nutrients and health concerns—for free.   

Goal-Based Food Lists

These nutrient-dense food lists are tailored to specific goals and dietary preferences. 

  • Maximum Nutrient Density
  • Fat Loss
  • Blood Sugar & Fat Loss
  • Blood Sugar Control
  • Lean Bulking and Bodybuilding
  • Athlete, Bulking, and Growth
  • Nutrient-Dense Maintenance
  • Bivalve Vegan
  • Pescatarian
  • Carnivore
  • Plant-Based
  • Low Fat
  • Maximum Satiety Per Calorie
  • Common Nutrient Deficiencies
  • Low-Carb
  • Nutrient-Dense Keto
  • Low Oxalate
  • NAD+ Boosters

Health Conditions

These food lists prioritise the nutrients that tend to be lacking with specific physical conditions. 

  • Acne
  • ADHD
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Cognition
  • Depression
  • Dyslipidaemia
  • Estrogen Dominance
  • Fatigue
  • Female Fertility
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gestational Diabetes
  • Gout
  • Gut Health
  • Hypertension
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Low Testosterone
  • Male Fertility
  • Mitochondrial Boosters
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Premenstrual Syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Sleep

Individual Micronutrients

These food lists show you where to get more of each of the micronutrients. 

  • Calcium
  • Choline
  • Copper
  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Omega-3
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Sodium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Zinc