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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.

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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.

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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.