Staying Cool with Nutrient Density

The Rebellious RD
7 min readJul 27, 2022

While we are wearing as few layers as possible, density sounds like something that will just weigh us down even more. But nutrient density is actually a light approach to eating, with a hefty benefit. Nutrient density is when foods have a higher nutrient content relative to their calories. It is a more efficient way of eating all you need, without needing to add “extra layers” so to speak. Sound cool 😎?

So what makes a nutrient-dense food? For starters, these foods are your least processed foods, meaning they are in their most natural state. Think of your fruits and vegetables heading to you straight from the farm. Yes, an obvious example of lower calorie foods, yet high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But we can take them one more step. Pairing our produce with certain others types of foods will help in unlocking all of the nutrients within the food combination, increasing the nutritional value of your combination even further. Nutrient balance can provide optimal nutritional value. And cooking your meals at home, even in this heat, has been associated with nutrition resilience, defined as healthier diets at a lower cost. Think of it as if your free perk, is just for making healthy choices.

Here are some other tasty combinations to help you get the biggest bang for your buck, with the least amount of calories and yet a mighty amount of nutrients:

  • 🍅Tomato, turkey, and spinach = a trio of B vitamins, which help build red blood cells and protect against heart disease
  • 🌱Pesto — a crowd favorite:). The olive oil, basil, and pine nut combination create a heart-healthy serving of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Use some spinach in your pesto as well, and these healthy fats will increase your absorption of the beta-carotene from the spinach. A great way to create pasta salad!
  • 🍜Pasta and beans — speaking of pasta, whole grain or whole wheat pasta served with beans delivers more fiber, protein, iron, and calcium than just going with pasta as the only carb. Toss in some broccoli for the addition of calcium, vitamin A, vitamin K, and yes, some fresh Parmesan cheese too.
  • 🥬Greens and greatness — we know greens have loads of nutrients, but adding an olive-oil-based dressing will improve the absorption even further. Top your salad or greens with sunflower seeds for a dose of vitamin E as well. Vitamin E helps to protect our cells from oxidative stress. Say what :)? Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. When balanced, free radicals help to fight off pathogens in your body. When imbalanced these dudes can some serious damage inside your body.
  • 🍷And likely a favorite combination, adding red wine to your nutrient-dense meal may further boost the antioxidant effects of vitamin E. While your body is digesting food, the nutrients in the wine (polyphenols) help minimize the damage that oxidation can do, or maybe even eliminate it. Cheers!

How can I stay cool and nutrient-dense at the same time? I thought you would never ask 😊. Turning on the oven is likely not your desired choice for how to stay cool, and yet turning on the grill is not always a go-to on a hot summer day. You can create a delicious and satisfying meal, without sweatin’ it out over your stovetop or grill. These recipes can be used as a marinade or salad dressing, a side dish, or a main entrée, whether your pick up a pre-made protein or go fresh, with the goal of keeping things as cool as cucumber 🥒.

photo by author

This zingy vinaigrette is a tasty, simple, versatile marinade or dressing, or the “secret ingredient” you can add to just about anything. Use as a marinade for chicken, fish, tofu, a dressing on your salad, your summer pasta salad, or a couple of tablespoons in your homemade summer hummus (see next recipe!)

2 small shallots, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup vegetable broth, low sodium
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 ½ Tablespoon honey
1–2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
freshly ground pepper and salt to taste

Combine the shallots through Dijon mustard in a blender. Puree until smooth. Taste and add freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Makes just under 2 cups. Use about 1 cup to marinate about 4 servings of protein.

photo by author

The heat can be stifling at times, so creating those no-heat-needed meals is key for staying cool when you feel like a sweaty betty :). This hummus is a satisfying blend of quality tahini paste (Soom, my favorite brand, which I have previously mentioned), chickpeas of course, and adding a couple of tablespoons of the Summer Vinaigrette above, for a spectacular sizzle. Serve with fresh veggies and whole grain pita or crackers, or spread on your favorite wrap, add lots of veggies, and lunch or dinner is served.

3 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or prepared fresh)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced into quarters
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup premium tahini paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 cup ice-cold water
2 Tablespoons Summer Vinaigrette
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Optional toppings: extra virgin olive oil, paprika, fresh parsley

Combine chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini paste, and cumin in a blender or food processor and pulse to a dense purée. Remove lid and scrape the sides down a bit. Replace lid and remove middle cap. Turn blender or food processor to medium, slowly add the ice water continue to blend until smooth. Add the Summer Vinaigrette and continue to blend. Taste and add salt and pepper for the desired flavor. Place in a serving bowl or save in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. When serving as a dip, suggest topping with extra virgin olive oil, paprika and fresh parsley.

photo by

This fresh and tangy marinade can be used for shrimp, chicken, fish, tofu, as a dressing for your favorite salad combination, or a sauce for a lean red meat on the barbecue. If using as a marinade, be sure to save extra to drizzle on top! It is a quick way to add some sweet, sour and spicy to your summer meals.

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt, plain
4 limes, squeezed to make about 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2–3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Place cilantro leaves through hot pepper sauce in a blender. Blend until smooth. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

photo by iStock

It is hard not to complete a blog about staying cool, making sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs, without a nutritious, hydrating cocktail🍸. A lighter take on the traditional piña colada. This could easily be made without alcohol as well. A tasty and fun way to end a meal, or to sip and enjoy while watching the sunset.

1 1/2 ounces rum
2 ounces light coconut milk
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup pineapple chunks, frozen
2–3 Tablespoons vanilla frozen yogurt

Place the rum through frozen yogurt in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a fresh pineapple slice. Makes 1 serving.

Feeling is for thinking. Don’t dodge emotions. Don’t wallow in them either. Confront them. Use them as a catalyst for future behavior. If thinking is for doing, feeling can help us think.
~Daniel H. Pink ~The Power of Regret~How looking backward moves us forward

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Drewnowski A. Nutrient density: addressing the challenge of obesity. Br J Nutr. 2018 Aug;120(s1):S8-S14. doi: 10.1017/S0007114517002240. Epub 2017 Oct 30. PMID: 29081311.

Cano-Ibáñez N, Quintana-Navarro GM, Alcala-Diaz JF, Rangel-Zuñiga OA, Camargo A, Yubero-Serrano EM, Perez-Corral I, Arenas-de Larriva AP, Garcia-Rios A, Perez-Martinez P, Delgado-Lista J, Lopez-Miranda J. Long-term effect of a dietary intervention with two-healthy dietary approaches on food intake and nutrient density in coronary patients: results from the CORDIOPREV trial. Eur J Nutr. 2022 Mar 29. doi: 10.1007/s00394–022–02854–7. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35348875.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025. 9th Edition.



The Rebellious RD

A nutrition expert and middle child, I am writing to promote health and wellbeing, recipes and tips in a relatable, slightly rebellious fashion.