DENSITY DIET GROCERY LIST

I have a secret to share: You eat what you buy. Okay, that’s not exactly groundbreaking. However, keeping yourself stocked with nourishing options and leaving junk on supermarket shelves is one of the most powerful ways to improve what you eat. So, this week we’re sharing our Density Diet grocery list.

The Density Diet is our version of a January “cleanse.” It’s a research-based, well-rounded way of eating that you can return to any time of year. Read more about it here and here.

In order to narrow each category down, I’ve put asterisks (*) next to items that you’ll most often find in my kitchen this time of year either because they are seasonal or I consider them staples because they are easy to cook. These items are no better than others nutritionally though so choose what you like.

DENSITY DIET GROCERY LIST

Vegetables

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh vegetables and frozen-vegetables with no added ingredients are fair game.)

*Arugula

*Avocado

*Beet

*Broccoli

*Brussels sprouts

*Cabbage

*Carrots

*Cauliflower

*Celery

*Cucumber

*Endive

*Fennel

*Ginger

*Herbs – Cilantro, Mint, Basil, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Tarragon, etc.

*Kale

*Onions – yellow/red/white, garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, chives, etc.

*Parsnip

*Potato

*Radicchio

*Radish

*Sweet potato

*Winter squash/Pumpkin

Artichoke

Asparagus

Bell pepper

Bok choy

Broccolini

Celeriac

Collard greens

Eggplant

Fava bean

Jerusalem artichoke

Jícama

Kohlrabi

Lettuces

Rapini (broccoli rabe)

Rutabaga

Snap peas

Snow peas

Spinach

Summer squash/zucchini

Swiss chard

Tomatillo

Tomato

Turnips

Fruit

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh fruit and dried and frozen fruit with no added ingredients are fair game.)

*Apple

*Banana

*Blueberry

*Lemon

*Lime

*Orange – Blood orange, Clementine, Mandarine, Tangerine, etc.

*Pear

*Pomegranate

*Dried fruit – Currants, Raisins, Cranberries, Dates, etc.

Apricot

Blackberry

Cantaloupe

Cherry

Fig

Grape

Grapefruit

Kiwi

Mango

Melon

Nectarine

Papaya

Peach

Persimmon

Pineapple

Plum

Raspberry

Strawberry

Watermelon

Whole Grains

(This list is non-exhaustive. All whole grains are fair game. Emphasize real whole grains versus products made from them such as whole wheat pastas and bread.)

All dried grains (favor these)

  • *Corn/polenta/popcorn
  • *Farro
  • *Oats
  • *Quinoa
  • *Whole grain rice such as brown, black or wild
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Freekeh
  • Millet
  • Spelt

A few of my favorite real whole grain products (choose more sparingly to get full benefits of whole grains)

  • Food for Like 7 Sprouted Grains Bread (In freezer section of market. Most of their other options are great as well.
  • Mestemacher Breads (I like the Fitness Bread)
  • Sfoglini whole grain pasta options (I’m opting to avoid whole grain pastas while following DD, but if you feel lost without them, Sfolglni’s options are some of my favorite.)
  • If you can’t find the above products, just make sure whole grain flour (i.e. whole wheat flour, whole oat flour, etc.) is the first ingredient listed on the nutrition panel. Also look for high fiber, low sodium, and low sugar.

Beans and Legumes

(This list is non-exhaustive. All dried and canned beans and lentils are fair game. Full disclosure: I most often use canned beans for ease. Cooking from scratch produces the most delicious bean but I rarely have the forethought.)

*Lentils (Beluga, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, all Dals, Puy, etc. – most of these take 20-30 minutes to cook, so I most often buy dried)

*Black

*Borlotti/cranberry

*Cannellini

*Chickpeas (my most frequent go-to)

*Butter beans

Navy

Pinto

Kidney

Nuts and Seeds

(This list is non-exhaustive. All shelled and unshelled nuts and seeds, raw or roasted and nut butters are fair-game. Look for no added sugar, no added oils. Store opened packages of nuts and seeds in the refrigerator or freezer.)

*Almonds

*Hazelnuts

*Peanuts

*Pecans

*Pine nuts

*Pumpkin seeds/pepitas

*Sesame seeds

*Walnuts

*Almond butter

*Peanut butter

*Tahini

Seafood, Poultry, Pork, Dairy, Eggs

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh and frozen fish, shellfish and canned seafood is fair game. All lean cuts of poultry and pork are fair game. All plain dairy is fair game. I prefer 2% or whole yogurts and some research suggests choosing these over non-fat alternatives is advantageous. Read about that here.)

*Salmon

*Canned tuna (I absolutely love oil-packed tuna. Tonnino is my go-to brand. Long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Chicken – breasts (bone-in or out), legs, thighs, etc.

*Pork loin and tenderloin

*Eggs

*Milk, plain

*Plain yogurt, regular or Greek

*Edamame (I typically keep pre-shelled frozen on hand.)

*Tofu (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Tempeh (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Miso (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

Tuna

Cod

Halibut

Shrimp

Lobster

Crab

Canned salmon

Smoked fish

Cottage cheese

Condiments/flavorings

(This list is non-exhaustive.)

*Extra virgin olive oil

*Flavorful nut and seed oils for salad dressings and stir-fry seasonings: toasted sesame oil, walnut oil

*Vinegars: balsamic, red-wine, white-wine, apple cider, etc.

*Olives (Kalamata, green, etc.), pickles and capers

*Asian condiments and flavorings: reduced-sodium soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, chile-garlic sauce, curry paste

*Kosher salt, Maldon salt for finishing

Black peppercorns

*Dry herbs and spices

Beverages

*Water and seltzers

*Tea

*Coffee

*Milk or non-dairy milks

Check out our Instagram and Facebook accounts for #densitydiet meal ideas. We’ll continue to provide more information here as well.

Are you following the Density Diet? How is it going and how do you feel? We’d love to hear from you!

MAKING THE DENSITY DIET WORK FOR YOU

Last week I introduced you to What We Eat’s Density Diet, a research-based, sane alternative to the unhealthy and counterproductive cleanses many embark on this time of year. While 5 Density Diet Rules serve as its framework, in order for you to be successful, you need to make them work for you. What does that mean? You need to make following the Density Diet a SMART goal.

Making the Density Diet SMART

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Read more about them here. The adjectives to zero in on in the case of the Density Diet are “attainable” and “time-bound.”

How long do you plan on following this way of eating? A few days? A week? For the month of January? Of course, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you follow the DD Rules to the letter. But is that attainable (i.e. realistic) for you? If not, make a list of exceptions before you start. If you plan for these, you aren’t “cheating.” You are making the diet work for you and increasing your odds of being successful.

Below is my list of exceptions so you can see how this works for someone else.

Laura’s Exceptions (example only, make a list of your own!)

  • When dining out, I’m allowed to enjoy a bit of cheese, red meat and/or refined grains (likely in the form of pizza or pastaJ). I don’t eat out more than once or twice a week and being able to enjoy what I want is important to me.
  • I’m allowed to enjoy a sweet once weekly but only if it’s truly special and I am savoring it with others (e.g. no mindless desserts consumption in front of the TV).
  • I’m allowed to enjoy my morning coffee and one alcoholic beverage a day (maybe two on weekend nights:)).

Once you make your own list of exceptions, following the Density Diet should be an effective SMART goal for you. It’s…

  • Specific and Measurable: You’ll know at the end of every day whether you’ve been successful or not. You could keep a journal of everything you consume and compare it to your DD rules if that makes it easier. Little deviations are not the end of the world. Perfection is the enemy of progress.
  • Attainable: Your list of exceptions should allow the DD to be doable for you!
  • Relevant: This way of eating is a return to eating for health. If health is your goal, this is as solid of a first step as you can take. Don’t be surprised if you notice you have more energy, normalized digestion, improved skin and maybe even weight loss.
  • Time-bound: You set your own agenda here. Whether you follow this for a few days or the entire year, you’ll benefit.

I’d love to hear from you. Any questions or concerns about this? What are your planned exceptions? If you think it would be helpful, we could start a Density Diet hashtag (#densitydiet2018) and I can tag my meals on Instagram. Let me know. I’d love to see yours as well.

HERE’S TO 2018!

xo Laura, MS, RD

A Better Way to “Cleanse”: What We Eat’s Density Diet


It’s that time of year again. Resolution time. For some, that might mean a vow to limit Instagram, start a gym routine or get more sleep. But for many others, it likely involves a plan to change their diet. After weeks (months?) of indulging, a desire to restore control is natural.

Everywhere you turn—the internet, TV, magazines, friends—you’ll find someone promising you that they have the easiest, quickest way to do it. And it’s probably going to come in the form of a cleanse, detox or elimination diet. I’d like to offer a sane alternative that can be a diet touchstone anytime of the year.

First, let’s get to the two main reasons why I don’t like traditional cleanses, detoxes and/or elimination diets:

  • They are not research-based. The most prominent claim these diets tout is that they remove toxic build-up in your body. News flash: Your kidneys, liver and colon are the most magnificent, incredibly effective detoxing machines. Eliminating particular foods won’t allow these organs to “rest” and eating particular foods won’t make them more effective. (And certainly, no supplements are going to help either. If a diet recommends taking its own branded supplements, be wary.) If you are going to put a large amount of effort into changing the way you eat, then it should deliver on its promises.
  • They are often too severe and/or unrealistic in the long-term. Cleanses, detoxes and eliminations that prescribe a narrow set of foods or beverages typically lack the full spectrum of nutrients your body needs. Why rob your body of what’s essential now in the wake of what was likely a long period of sub-optimal nourishment? You’d just be swapping one bad diet for another. And while, yes, they might lead to short term weight loss because you’re severely restricting calories, the weight loss won’t last. Whatever you do to lose weight, you have to continue in the long-term to keep it off.

Continue reading “A Better Way to “Cleanse”: What We Eat’s Density Diet”

Nutrient and Caloric Density: Cracking the nutrition code for good

If I had the eyes and ears of the world and only 10 minutes to share the most important concepts in nutrition, I would attempt to explain nutrient and caloric density. Horrible, horrible names but very, very important ideas. The good news is that the devil is NOT in the details. A broad understanding is all you need to answer most nutrition-related questions.

Before we get into it, I bet these concepts are things you already get intuitively. Let’s see:

Question 1: Both the five Starbursts and medium banana below are about 100 calories. Of these two, which do you think is the healthier choice? Why?

What We Eat: Starbursts v BananaAnswer 1: If you guessed the banana (duh), you’d be right. Clearly, there is way more good stuff (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) per calorie in the fruit than in the fruit candy. This is what is termed “nutrient density.”

Question 2: You’re trying to watch your waistline. Would one-cup granola or one-cup oatmeal be the better breakfast choice? Why?

What We Eat: Oatmeal v Granola

Answer 2: Guess oatmeal? Ding, ding, ding! Considering the same volume of oatmeal has about a third of the calories of granola, you could fill your tummy equally without letting out your belt loop. This is what is termed “caloric density.”

So, Nutrient Density = the amount of good stuff  (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) in a specific food per the amount of calories it provides.

  • High nutrient density = lots of good stuff per calorie (aka “superfoods”)
  • Low nutrient density = little good stuff per calorie (aka “empty calories”)

And, Caloric Density = the amount of calories in a specific volume/weight of food.

  • High caloric density = lots of calories for small amount of food (bummer)
  • Low caloric density = few calories for a large amount of food (great!)

For optimal nutrition, the goal is to eat as many foods packed with vitamins, minerals, etc. for the fewest amount of calories. That means eating more of the foods at the top of this table, and less of the foods at the bottom.

What We Eat: Nutrient Density Table

In light of out waistlines, the goal is to eat foods that provide the least amount of calories for the greatest amount of volume. In general, the more water and/or fiber a food contains, the lower the caloric density, and the more fat it provides, the higher the caloric density.

What We Eat: Caloric Density Table
Based on University of Wisconsin handout – https://www.uwgb.edu/pearsond/NUT_SCI_300site/Handouts-300/EnergyDensity.gif

There is a lot of crossover between nutrient and caloric density. Most important to note: vegetables and fruits are at the top of both lists explaining why they should account for half of everything we eat and refined grains/sweets are at the bottom of both lists explaining why they should be all but eliminated. When we do decide to include foods low in nutrient density or high in caloric density, they should be consumed sparingly as special treats or to enhance healthier foods. Here are some examples:

  • Adding a crumble of feta cheese over a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion (pairing a low nutrient density/high caloric density food, cheese, with high nutrient density/low caloric density food, vegetables)
  • Swapping half of your pasta with sautéed vegetables (swapping a low nutrient density/medium caloric density food, pasta, for high nutrient density/low caloric density food, vegetables, allowing you to keep the volume but greatly increase the nutrients and decrease the calories)
  • Pairing a quarter cup of nuts along with your apple (pairing a medium nutrient density/high caloric density food with a high nutrient density/low caloric density food)

What you shouldn’t do is pair low nutrient density/high caloric density foods together. That’s why, say, having cheese and crackers before dinner on a nightly basis is not the best habit to get in. They both have little nutritional value and a TON of calories for so little volume. Instead, why not snack on cut up veggies with a judicious amount of hummus?

Want to see how this should play out on your plate day-to-day?

Healthy Eating Plate
Those geniuses from Harvard think of everything.

So now, tell me and be honest, do you get it? Let me know because I am practicing for when I have those 10 minutes of the whole world’s attention.