Nutrient Density | The Paleo Diet®
noun_Search_345985 Created with Sketch.

Try The Paleo Diet®!

Learn more. Get recipes & meal plans. See the science.

Nutrient Density

Central to the Paleo Diet® premise is the focus on natural nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats while avoiding highly processed foods found on supermarket shelves that may be high in calories but are lacking in most everything else.

Expand For More

The term “nutrient” is a broad term that applies to the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and other compounds that we need to consume for growth, health, and survival. Our bodies can’t produce them—or, sometimes, are unable to do so in sufficient quantities—so we must get them through our food.

One of the biggest criticisms leveled against The Paleo Diet is that by eliminating two food groups—dairy and grains—it’s not possible to get the essential nutrients we need to thrive.

The problem with that argument is that it doesn’t consider the nutrient density of the various food groups. When all the groups are ranked in order of density, the groups eliminated by the Paleo Diet are at the bottom of the nutrient density ranking.

On The Paleo Diet, since you would replace the calories lost by the elimination of nutrient-poor, calorically dense grains and dairy, you will instead consume much more nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. The result? The Paleo Diet is actually more, not less, nutrient dense.

The importance of this nutrient density is also one of the primary reasons The Paleo Diet does not promote supplements or substituting (i.e. replacing wheat flour with almond flour.) Flour, even if it is a nut flour, and sweeteners, even from natural honey, have little to no nutrient density.

Likewise, supplements tend to contain less bio-available forms of our key nutrients. When they come in the form of a multi-vitamin, they suffer from competitive absorption. Further, supplements rarely contain everything we need—there are many important nutrients, such as some phytochemicals, that are essential to optimal health that we still don’t fully understand and certainly don’t put in multi-vitamins.

Finally, what’s not shown on the nutrient-density table is the anti-nutrient density of the food groups. Some foods contain anti-nutrients such as lectins, saponins, and phytate, which can cause inflammation and a breakdown of the gut barrier. A healthy diet should avoid foods such as grains and legumes that are high in these anti-nutrients.

That’s why, for these many reasons, The Paleo Diet focuses on food groups that have a high nutrient density, while avoiding food groups that have both a low density and are high in anti-nutrients. Eating a high nutrient-density diet also has the added benefit of satiating hunger signals and making it easier to maintain a healthy body weight.

noun_chevron up_1746113 Created with Sketch.
The Fundamentals of Sports Nutrition: Assessing the Fueling Station

Are you a good nutrition student? By using a gap analysis, you can create a personalized nutrition plan.

By Ryan Kohler
The Paleo Diet: Designed by Nature, Built By Science

The Paleo Diet is the diet we evolved over a million years to eat and there is still a lot of science to show why it is still the best human diet.

By Mark J. Smith, Ph.D.
Eliminating Non-Paleo Foods Improves Nutrient Density

We compare the nutrient density of Paleo foods to non-Paleo foods to show the health benefits of eating natural foods.

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Dr. Cordain Responds to Critics of a Recent Paleo Diet Study About Nutrient Density
Learn more about a recent paleo diet study from Dr. Cordain. Browse The Paleo Diet® blog for the latest in paleo meal plans, recipes & more today!
By Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Beans and Legumes: Are They Paleo?
Beans and legumes have been promoted by the USDA as nutritional equivalents to animal proteins. This, however, is misguided. Beans and legumes contain many antinutrients that can cause many health problems.
By Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Forget the Macronutrient Ratios - You Are What You Were Designed to Eat

The focus of the Paleo Diet is not on finding an ideal macronutrient ratio, but on eating the foods we evolved to eat and avoiding anything processed.

By Trevor Connor, M.S.
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets: Nutritional Disasters Part 3

You don’t have to look any further than the ADA’s or the USDA’s recommendations on vegetarian diets to discover their additional nutrient shortcomings.

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets: Nutritional Disasters Part 2

Vitamin B12 deficiencies caused by vegetarian or vegan diets are devastating to infants and pregnant women. Learn why a Paleo Diet is optimal for pregnancy.

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets: Nutritional Disasters Part 1

Dr. Cordain discusses the ramifications of following a vegetarian or vegan diet and subsequent devastating effects. Follow a Paleo Diet for optimal health.

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Eating For Endurance

The Paleo diet can help you improve your performance by giving your body the fuel it needs to thrive. Read the posts on our blog for ever more information about the Paleo diet for athletes!

By Nell Stephenson
Five Practical Tips for Getting Your B Vitamins

Here, we explain how you can get plenty of B vitamins while following a Paleo lifestyle. Browse our blog for Paleo recipes, news, and more!

By Christopher Clark
Pomegranate: Perhaps, Paleo’s Healthiest Fruit

Learn how the pomegranate is paleo's healthiest fruit. Browse The Paleo Diet® blog for the latest paleo diet news, paleo recipes, meal plans & more!

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
1 2 Last
Paleo Leadership
Trevor Connor
Trevor Connor

Dr. Loren Cordain’s final graduate student, Trevor Connor, M.S., brings more than a decade of nutrition and physiology expertise to spearhead the new Paleo Diet team.

Mark J Smith
Dr. Mark J. Smith

One of the original members of the Paleo movement, Mark J. Smith, Ph.D., has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the benefits of Paleo nutrition.

Nell Stephenson
Nell Stephenson

Ironman athlete, mom, author, and nutrition blogger Nell Stephenson has been an influential member of the Paleo movement for over a decade.

Loren Cordain
Dr. Loren Cordain

As a professor at Colorado State University, Dr. Loren Cordain developed The Paleo Diet® through decades of research and collaboration with fellow scientists around the world.