Nutrient Density & Implications for Healthy Eating Patterns

Current scientific evidence shows that healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reflects this evidence through its recommendations and emphasizes the importance of following a healthy dietary pattern and the consumption of nutrient dense foods.
Recently, I had the opportunity to present at the American Society for Nutrition Conference on a study developed by Herbalife Nutrition on “Nutrient Density of USDA’s sample menu measured by the Nutrient Rich Food Index.”
The Nutrient Rich Food (NRF) Index & Nutrient Density (ND)
The NRF index is a validated, science-based, consumer-driven metric tool to quantify nutrient density for individual foods, that can help people identify nutrient dense foods. Nutrient density is a measure to help identify foods that ideally contain a spectrum of key essential nutrients and limit so-called “negative” nutrients. When choosing between two food items with the same calorie amount, high nutrient dense food choices can provide the body with the protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals needed every day, while low nutrient dense choice may provide empty calories from sugar and saturated fat with no other significant nutrients. 
The objective of this study was to measure the nutrient density (ND) of the 7-day sample menus for a 2,000 calorie meal plan recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) using the Nutrition Rich Food (NRF) index and to determine a target NRF index score for a meal and a day.
Case Study: USDA Sample Menu
The 7-day sample menu was developed by the USDA to help put a healthy eating pattern into practice. Each food item on the menu was represented by the most frequently consumed food item from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2013-2014. Nutrition information was extracted from the USDA database according to the food code of each food item. Nutrient density was evaluated by calculating the NRF index for individual meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), snacks, and overall daily intake based on previously published methods. The mean, median, and interquartile range (IQR) of the NRF index for the individual meals, snacks, and daily intake over 7 days were calculated. One-sample test was conducted to compare the estimated mean daily intakes of individual nutrients derived from the present analysis to the respective reported values by the USDA.