You can eat only a limited amount of food in a single day.
To maximize the amount of nutrients you take in, it makes sense to spend your calorie budget wisely by choosing the foods that carry the greatest amount and variety of nutrients.
Here are the 11 most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
Not all fish are created equal.
Salmon and other fatty types of fish contain the most omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are extremely important for optimal functioning of your body. They’re linked to improved well-being and a lower risk of many serious diseases (1Trusted Source).
Although salmon is mainly prized for its beneficial composition of fatty acids, it also packs massive amounts of other nutrients.
A 100-gram serving of wild Atlantic salmon contains about 2.2 grams of omega-3s, along with lots of high quality animal protein and ample vitamins and minerals, including large amounts of magnesium, potassium, selenium, and B vitamins (2Trusted Source).
It’s a good idea to eat fatty fish at least once or twice a week to get all the omega-3s your body needs.
Studies show that people who eat fatty fish regularly have a lower risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, and many other common health conditions (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6).
Salmon tastes good and is fairly simple to prepare. It also tends to make you feel full with relatively few calories.
Of all the leafy greens, kale is the king.
It’s loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and various bioactive compounds.
Kale is especially high in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K1. It also contains large amounts of vitamin B6, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, and manganese. A one cup serving has only 9 calories (9Trusted Source).
Kale may be even healthier than spinach. Both are very nutritious, but kale is lower in oxalates, substances that can bind minerals like calcium in your intestine, preventing them from being absorbed (10Trusted Source).
Kale and other greens are also high in various bioactive compounds, including isothiocyanates and indole-3-carbinol, which have been shown to fight cancer in test-tube and animal studies (11Trusted Source, 12).
The sea has more than just fish. It also contains massive amounts of vegetation.
There are thousands of different plant species in the ocean, some of which are very nutritious. Usually, they are referred to collectively as seaweed (13Trusted Source).
Seaweed is popular in dishes such as sushi. Many sushi dishes include a type of seaweed known as nori, which is used as an edible wrapping.
In many cases, seaweed is even more nutritious than land vegetables. It’s particularly high in minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and manganese (14Trusted Source).
It’s also loaded with various bioactive compounds, including phycocyanins and carotenoids. Some of these substances are antioxidants with powerful anti-inflammatory capacities (15Trusted Source).
But seaweed really shines in its high content of iodine, a mineral your body uses to make thyroid hormones.
Just eating a high iodine seaweed like kelp a few times per month can give your body all the iodine it needs.
If you don’t like the taste of seaweed, you can also take it in supplement form. Dried kelp tablets are very cheap and loaded with iodine.
Garlic really is an amazing ingredient.
It can turn all sorts of bland dishes delicious, and it’s very nutritious.
It’s high in vitamins C, B1, and B6, as well as calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium (16Trusted Source).
Garlic is also high in beneficial sulfur compounds such as allicin.
Many studies suggest that allicin and garlic may lower blood pressure as well as total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. It also helps raise HDL (good) cholesterol, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease down the line (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
Garlic also has various cancer-fighting properties. Some older studies suggest that people who eat a lot of garlic have a much lower risk of several common cancers, especially cancers of the colon and stomach (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
Many sea animals are high in nutrients, but shellfish may be among the most nutritious of all.
Clams, oysters, scallops, and mussels are commonly consumed types of shellfish.
Clams are among the best sources of vitamin B12 in existence, with 100 grams of clams supplying more than 16 times the RDI. They are also loaded with vitamin C, various B vitamins, potassium, selenium, and iron (25Trusted Source).
Oysters are also very nutritious. Only 100 grams supply 600% of the RDI for zinc, 200% of the RDI for copper, and large amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and several other nutrients (26Trusted Source).
Though shellfish are among the world’s most nutritious foods, most people rarely consume them.
Potatoes are high in potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They also contain vitamin C and most B vitamins (27Trusted Source).
They contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need. There are accounts of people living on nothing but potatoes for a long time.
Potatoes are also one of the most filling foods. When researchers compared the satiety values of different foods, boiled potatoes scored higher than any other food measured (28Trusted Source).
If you allow potatoes to cool after cooking, they also form resistant starch, a fiber-like substance with many powerful health benefits (29Trusted Source).
Humans and our remote ancestors have been eating animals for millions of years.
However, the modern Western diet has prioritized muscle meat over organ meats. Compared to the organs, muscle meat is nutritionally poor.
Out of all the organs, liver is by far the most nutritious.
The liver is a remarkable organ with hundreds of functions related to metabolism. One of its functions is to store important nutrients for the rest of your body.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of beef liver contains (30Trusted Source):
- Vitamin B12: 1,176% of the DV
- Vitamin B5, vitamin B6, niacin, and folate: more than 50% of the DV
- Vitamin B2: 201% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 634% of the DV
- Copper: 714% of the DV
- Iron, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium: more than 30% of the DV
- High quality animal protein: 29 grams
Eating liver once per week is a good way to ensure that you get optimal amounts of these vital nutrients.
Sardines are small, oily fish that can be eaten whole.
Given that the organs are usually the most nutritious parts of an animal, it’s not surprising that whole sardines are very nourishing.
They contain a little bit of almost every nutrient your body needs (31Trusted Source).
Like other fatty fish, they’re also very high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
When it comes to the nutritional value of fruits, blueberries are in a league of their own.
Although not as high — calorie for calorie — in vitamins and minerals as vegetables, they’re packed with antioxidants.
They are loaded with powerful antioxidant substances, including anthocyanins and various other plant compounds, some of which can cross the blood-brain barrier and exert protective effects on your brain (32Trusted Source).
Several studies have examined the health effects of blueberries in humans.
One study found that blueberries improved memory in older adults (33Trusted Source).
Another study found that obese men and women with metabolic syndrome had a lowered blood pressure and reduced markers of oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol after adding blueberries to their diet (34Trusted Source).
This finding is in line with studies showing that blueberries increase the antioxidant value of your blood (35Trusted Source).
10. Egg yolks
Egg yolks have been unfairly demonized because of their cholesterol content.
However, studies suggest that dietary cholesterol isn’t something you generally need to worry about.
Eating moderate amounts of cholesterol doesn’t raise the LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood (39Trusted Source).
Egg yolks are therefore one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Whole eggs are so nutritious that they’re sometimes referred to as “nature’s multivitamin.”
Egg yolks are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and various powerful nutrients, including choline (40Trusted Source).
They’re high in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that can protect your eyes and reduce your risk of eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration (41Trusted Source).
They are also cheap, flavorful, and easy to prepare.
11. Dark chocolate (cocoa)
Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat.
It is loaded with fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese (46Trusted Source).
But its biggest benefit is its amazing range of antioxidants.
In fact, a study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate scored higher in antioxidants than any other food tested, including blueberries and acai berries (47Trusted Source).
Multiple studies in humans suggest that dark chocolate has powerful health benefits, including improved blood flow, lower blood pressure, reduced oxidized LDL cholesterol, and improved brain function (48Trusted Source, 49Trusted Source, 50Trusted Source).
One study found that people who consumed chocolate more than 5 times per week had a 57% lower risk of heart disease (51Trusted Source).
Given that heart disease is the most common cause of death worldwide, this finding could have implications for millions of people.
Make sure to get dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content. The best ones contain 85% cocoa or higher.
Eating a small square of quality dark chocolate every day may be one of the best ways to supplement your diet with additional antioxidants.
The bottom line
If you want lots of nutrients without many calories, the most obvious strategy is to take dietary supplements.
However, supplements can hardly replace a healthy diet. A better way to get all the nutrients you need is to fill your meals with nutrient-dense foods.
Nutrient-dense foods are rich in nutrients relative to their calorie content. These include various healthy foods such as whole vegetables, fruits, cocoa, seafood, eggs, and liver.
Start adding the above foods to your diet today to reap their benefits.