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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Nutrient Density, Healthy Eating Patterns, and Dietary Guidelines

By Michael McBurney

Skipping meals is never a good idea when one wants to eat a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals. Lunch is an important source of nutrients for school-aged children. New data from 4,755 children and adolescents (NHANES 2009-2012) finds that missing lunch is associated with lower micronutrient intakes.

Within the US, 40% of children bring a packed lunch to school and packed lunches are of less nutritional quality than school lunches. Implementing nutrition standards for school lunches promotes dietary health. Unfortunately, Spence and colleagues found the gap in nutritional quality between packed lunches and school lunch is widening in the UK.

Breakfast skipping and selection of foods of low nutritional quality in the morning is common among school-age children regardless of economic status. To grow, to learn, and to be healthy, children need to eat foods that provide calories (carbohydrate, protein, fat) and are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.

Nutrient dense foods are ones which contain more beneficial nutrients per calorie, sometimes volume or weight. The purpose of emphasizing nutrient density is to encourage people to improve the nutrient-to-energy ratio of their diet. Although the term nutrient density may be loosely defined, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 emphasizes the importance of healthy eating patterns (not skipping meals is a simple interpretation) and choosing a variety of nutrient-dense foods across all and within all food groups in recommended amounts. Sage advice.

Main Citation

Mathias KC, Jacquier E, Eldridge AL. Missing lunch is associated with lower intakes of micronutrients from foods and beverages among children and adolescents in the United States. 2016 J Acad Nutr Diet doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.021

Other Citations

Drewnowski A. Concept of a nutritious food: toward a nutrient density score. 2005 Am J Clin Nutr 82(4):721-732

Nicklas TA, Drewnowski A, O’Neill CE. The nutrient density approach to healthy eating : challenges and opportunities . 2014 Publ Health Nutr doi: 10.1017/S136898001400158X

Spence S, Delve J, Stamp E, Matthews JNS, White M, Adamson AJ. The impact of food and nutrient-based standards on primary school children’s lunch and total dietary intake: A natural experimental evaluation of government policy in England. 2014 PLoSONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078298

Farris AR, Misyak S, Duffey KJ, Davis GC, Hosig K, Atzaba-Poria N, McFerren MM, Serrano EL. Nutritional comparison of packed and school lunches in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children following the implementation of the 2012-2013 National School Lunch Program Standards. 4 J Nutr Educ Behav doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2014.07.007

Dykstra H, Davey A, Fisher JO, Polonsky H, Sherman S, Abel ML, Dale LC, Foster GD, Bauer KW. Breakfast-skipping and selecting low-nutritional-quality foods for breakfast are common among low-income urban children, regardless of food security status. 2016 J Nutr doi: 10.3945/jn.115.225516