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.



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





*Brussels sprouts









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


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





*Sweet potato

*Winter squash/Pumpkin



Bell pepper

Bok choy



Collard greens


Fava bean

Jerusalem artichoke




Rapini (broccoli rabe)


Snap peas

Snow peas


Summer squash/zucchini

Swiss chard





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






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



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




















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)




*Chickpeas (my most frequent go-to)

*Butter beans




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.)





*Pine nuts

*Pumpkin seeds/pepitas

*Sesame seeds


*Almond butter

*Peanut butter


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.)


*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


*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.)







Canned salmon

Smoked fish

Cottage cheese


(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


*Water and seltzers



*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!


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

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 –

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.

Breaking Down Breakfast: My 4 go-to’s

What We Eat: Breakfast 6

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Oh sorry, I just fell asleep for a second. You? But in all seriousness, while I know that starting a blog post with a boring sentence like that breaks rule #1 of captivating an audience, hear me out:

I freakin’ love breakfast. Although it typically provides just 17% of our day’s total calories, it accounts for a much higher proportion of important vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D and potassium. The bulk of the research shows that eating breakfast daily is important for weight maintenance too, not to mention mood and mental stamina. So what does this dietitian eat to keep herself fueled and satisfied until lunchtime? Here are my personal go-to’s – quick, balanced and good.

What We Eat: Breakfast 4

  • #1. ¾ cup cooked whole grain + ¾ cup plain low fat Greek yogurt + fruit (unlimited) + 2 tablespoons toasted nuts (typically an almond/pecan mix) + sprinkling of cinnamon.

Truth be told, I eat this about 90% of the time and never get tired of it. In fact, right now I’m feeling sad that I’ll have to wait a whopping 16 hours until my next breakfast. Luckily research shows that limiting variety (within limits of course) can be a waist-friendly way to control portions. I prepare the grains and toast the nuts in bulk once or twice a week (Sundays or weekday nights after dinner) so I can make quick work of morning prep. To keep things interesting I switch up the grains – oatmeal, yes, but also farro, barley, quinoa, brown rice, etc. Seriously, try this ASAP.

(Note: I use cinnamon in breakfasts 1-3 because it adds the illusion of sweetness without actually adding any sugar.)

  • #2. 1-2 slices whole grain bread (the grainier the better) + 2 tablespoons peanut butter + ½ cup plain low fat Greek yogurt + sliced banana and/or strawberries + sprinkling of cinnamon

I pretend this is breakfast banana shortcake – bread toasted, everything else heaped on top, consumed with a fork and knife. Okay, so maybe I use a wee bit more than 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (not a safe item for me to keep in house), which is why I typically have this when visiting my parents or parents-in-law (or anyone else’s home that I can sniff out peanut butter…trust me, I’ll find it).

  • #3. 1-1 ½ cups cereal + 1 cup low fat milk + 2 tablespoons toasted nuts + fruit (unlimited) + cinnamon

All breakfast cereal is not created equal. I chose varieties with more than 5 grams of fiber and less than 4 grams of sugar per serving (equivalent to 1 tsp). I also mix high- and low-calorie options so I get the belly-filling benefits of the former and the bulk of the latter. Some of my favorites:

– Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes (3/4 cup serving contains 120 calories, 5 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar)

– Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal, Original (1/2 cup serving contains 190 calories, 6 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar)

– Cheerios (1 cup serving contains 100 calories, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar) Note: I only add this for bulk. Cheerios alone would never keep me satisfied until lunch.

What We Eat: Breakfast 5

  • #4. 1-2 slices whole grain toast (the grainier the better) + 1-2 eggs prepared anyway + ½ sliced avocado + sliced tomatoes + judicious drizzle of olive oil + fruit on the side

Of all the options listed, this is probably the one I have for breakfast the least, but not because I don’t LOVE it. Instead, it’s because eggs are a go-to protein source for me at lunch or dinner and I don’t want to overdo it. If you lean towards the savory, an egg breakfast is an incredibly healthy choice, and I find more filling than many of the other options. And don’t skip the yolk – it provides nearly half the protein and the majority of the rest of good vitamins and minerals found in eggs. Yes, it also houses most of the cholesterol, but research shows that dietary cholesterol is not nearly as big of a contributing factor to your body’s cholesterol as saturated fat.

What’s in your breakfast rotation? As long as it’s got belly filling fiber from fruits/vegetables and/or whole grains and a little protein from dairy/eggs/nuts/legumes/animal protein/etc. to make the fullness last, you’re nailing it!

Think Forward: The “Key Three” questions to consider before changing habits

What We Eat: 3-keys-success

Whenever there is an end you’d like to achieve, whether it’s a 5 lbs weight loss or finishing your first 5k, spending time upfront thinking about how you’ll get there is critical. By answering the following questions – the “Key Three” – you’ll ensure you’re not wasting your time down the road.

  1. What actions are necessary to achieve my outcome?
  2. Which actions will give me the biggest bang for my ‘effort buck’?
  3. Which one of these actions am I willing to tackle first?

Let me give you an example.

You’d like to fit back into your insert adjective here (e.g. pre-baby, pre-menopause, pre-60-hour-work-week-glued-to-your-office-chair) jeans. You think you’d have to lose 7 lbs to get there. First you consider what has changed since you last fit into those pants, essentially answering question #1.

  • You stopped making time for exercise. Okay, to be honest you never went to the gym more than once or twice a week before, but you did make an effort to go on a 30-minute walk most days even if it was just commuting by foot to work.
  • Your one glass of wine daily over time became a two glass of wine minimum routine.
  • When the clock hits 3 pm, it’s now straight to Starbucks for a Skinny Grande Vanilla Latte and maybe a cookie. Okay, who are you kidding, you always get the cookie. Afternoon slump be gone!

Next, you tally the calories that your new habits have added or subtracted to answer question #2.

  • 30 minutes less walking = 150 calories less burned.
  • One 6-oz glass of wine extra = 150 calories more consumed.
  • Skinny Grande Vanilla Latte + chocolate chip cookie = 440 calories more consumed.

An extra 740 calories a day definitely explains the 7 lbs weight gain, and it’s pretty easy to see what change would give you the biggest bang for your ‘effort buck.’ (We’re looking at you Starbucks.)

Finally, it’s on to honestly thinking about which of these habits will be easiest to zero in on first to answer question #3 and start to set some SMART goals.

  • Now that the summer is here, commuting to work by foot is probably doable again. If you did it in both the AM and PM, that’s 30 minutes total. 150 calories slashed!
  • Nope, it’s summertime and that extra glass of crisp chard is much appreciated.
  • You like your coffee, but at 320 calories a pop you don’t think the cookie is worth it. You’ll downsize to a Tall, and enjoy it with a piece of fruit instead. Another 240 calories cut!

With the time you’ve dedicated to think about it upfront, you have created a plan to eliminate 390 calories from your daily routine, enough to lose a little under a pound a week. Now it’s time to be persistent and patient. At the end of the month, when you’re down over 3 lbs and feel like it was nearly effortless, you’ll be glad you were.