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posted: 4/16/2012 6:00 AM

Learn which foods to choose for a nutrient-rich diet

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Take a moment and think back to the last meal you ate. How nutritionally complete was that meal? The question is -- did you truly nourish your body with the food you ate, or are you just fueling your body enough to get through the day?

Fundamentally, your food will break down into three macronutrient categories: protein, fat and carbohydrate. A healthy meal should contain a balance of these three macronutrients with emphasis on lean proteins, healthy fats and low glycemic fruits or vegetables.

Beyond that, there is a micronutrient profile to each food as well. Micronutrients are more commonly known as vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are needed by the body to efficiently carry out our day-to-day metabolic processes. In addition, a diet rich in various micronutrients will allow your immune system to keep you healthy, help fight the signs of aging and minimize the chance of acquiring diseases caused by dietary deficiencies.

An easy way to choose foods higher in micronutrients is to compare calories to nutrient density. If a food has high calories, but lacks nutrients, stay away from it. This includes things such as candy, sodas, chips, jams, bread, pastas and certain juices. These foodlike substances will temporarily fuel your body with sugar, but will do little to nourish your body from a true nutritional standpoint.

At the same time, don't make the mistake of choosing foods that have low caloric content, but may also have a low nutrient content, such as low-fat yogurts, sugar-free gelatin and low-calorie snack packs. These may seem like better snack options, because these foodlike substances contain fewer calories, but overall, they have no real nutritional content.

Real foods with a higher micronutrient profile such as meats, fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts are more balanced with their calorie-to-micronutrient ratio. This makes them ideal foods for someone wanting to promote wellness while maintaining a healthy weight. Choose a variety of these types of foods to maximize your chances of getting a wide array of micronutrients.

If you begin to choose your meals based on the nutrient content of the food, rather than the caloric content of the food, you will make better choices almost every time. Reach for a balance of real foods that will fuel your body with real nutrients and not just empty calories.

To maximize nutrients and healthful calories, we recommend the foods in the accompanying chart.

Eat often
Nuts/nut butters
Coconut oil
Olive 0il

Eat occasionally
Potatoes/sweet potatoes
Wild/brown rice
Dairy products
Natural fruit/vegetable juices

High-calorie juices
Added sugar/sweeteners
Foods labeled "light" or "low fat"
Processed foods
Fast foods

• Joshua Steckler and Mark Trapp are co-owners of Push Fitness, a personal training studio in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutrition. Contact them at

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