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Many studies show that the average American diet is rich in energy but poor in nutrients, or, in other words, high in calories but not very healthy. This can happen for many reasons, from time constraints on a busy schedule to the ever-rising cost of food.

The good news is, there are quick and even inexpensive tricks that can improve the nutrient density of your meals without making you completely alter your lifestyle.

Top Your Meals With Nuts and Seeds

Nuts can have surprisingly high calorie counts, but they are also one of the most nutrient-dense foods. Most nuts are rich in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, protein, and magnesium and a great source of vitamins.

Seeds, which are quite a bit cheaper than most nuts, are similarly full of nutrients but have fewer calories. Add an ounce or two to your salads, sauces, or rice dishes to dramatically increase your nutrient intake.

woman pouring nuts into her hand from a jar

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Add an Extra Serving of Veggies

If you want to boost the nutrient density of your meals without affecting calories, just add in an extra serving of veggies. Leafy greens, in particular, are among the most nutrient-rich vegetables. Just a cup of raw spinach provides 16% of the daily value for vitamin A and 120% of vitamin K—for a mere seven calories. Other options include kale, carrots, garlic, green peas, sweet potatoes, and collard greens.

Adding veggies does not just mean eating salads or vegetable mixes, either. Sauces are quick and easy ways to add nutrients to any dish, so sneak in a bit more veg with pesto or tomato sauce instead of mayo or other fats for your meals.

dinner plate with lots of veggies

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Change One Meal

Changing your diet can be more difficult and expensive than people expect. To ease into a healthy diet and save yourself some money, aim for adjusting just one meal. If you tend to eat sugary cereals for breakfast, swap them out for oatmeal with some fruit or even a bowl of quinoa.

At dinner and lunch, consider adding healthy vegetable toppings to your pizzas, tacos, and sandwiches, rather than extra meat or cheese.

woman enjoying a healthy bowl of oatmeal for breakfast

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Lots of Color

Though it is not a foolproof metric, an easy way to tell if you are getting enough nutrients from your dishes is to just You probably already know that nutritionists recommend eating plenty of protein, but you may not know exactly why. Our bodies need protein to , activate various parts of our metabolism, and perform a whole host of other functions. While most people immediately jump to red meat and poultry for their protein needs, there are plenty of much more nutrient-dense and less expensive choices. Beans, including soy, and nuts contain lots of protein, as well as a variety of minerals and vitamins. Plus, they tend to be easier on the wallet. Despite the widespread belief that carbs are unhealthy, they are actually . Some, though, are much healthier than others. Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables will leave you full but not feeling heavy. Whole grains are much better sources of fiber and other nutrients than more processed options like white bread. Because our daily lives are full of back-to-back responsibilities, most people tend to skip making a grocery list. However, grocery stores are onto these folks. The markets have specific designs and layouts to make you . And unfortunately, some of the most profitable items are also the unhealthiest. Even if you do not fall for their money-making efforts, without a grocery list, you might fall back on buying the same products you always do or, if you're hungry, giving in to cravings you've been trying to cut back on. Writing a grocery list is a great way to remind you to buy healthier foods with more nutrients, and to ensure less goes to waste because you'll have all the makings of your planned meals. Meal prepping is a great way to save time and ensure that you are throughout the week, but it's not always possible. Even if you don't prep, consider planning meals—at least dinners—at least a few days in advance. Doing so helps you avoid the temptation ordering in, and you can see the balance of healthy ingredients over the course of the week. Plus, by planning your meals, you can cut down pre-dining prep each day by thawing out meat, chopping veggies, and ensuring you won't have to run to the store for a missing ingredient. Another way to save money and improve your nutrient intake throughout the day is to give yourself alternative options to easy-grab but less nutrient-dense snacks like a bag of potato chips. Foods like nuts, kale chips, and plantain chips can fill a similar niche to typical snacks when you need something a bit crunchy. Sweeter fruits like berries and apples can give you a sugar fix without the crash. There is nothing wrong with enjoying those salty bags of goodness every once in a while, but relying on them to relieve hunger can drastically impact your nutrition over time. It is one thing to tell someone to increase the nutrients in their meals, but actually doing so can seem difficult without more guidance. Some concrete ways you can improve your diet include


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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.