Nutrient Dense Foods: What They Are and Are Not!

Nutrient dense foods

In a recent conversation with a lady who had just discovered Sally Fallon’s cookbook Nourishing Traditions and the Weston A. Price Foundation, it became incredibly apparent to me that despite the enormous amount of information available to people, both in print and online, many STILL have a low grasp of what foods qualify as “nutrient dense.”

During a brief chat, I suggested to her that the best fats to cook with were coconut oil, lard, tallow, and other saturated fats. She came back to me in an almost cynical tone of voice and informed me she was already using the best fats available: peanut and canola oil. She then proudly stated that she also used olive oil or Crisco to fry or bake her chicken and in many of her other recipes! I just rolled my eyes and silently sighed at the amount of work I’d have to do to try and convert her via our phone conversation.

What to do? Since there is only limited time in conversations about switching to a more nutrient dense diet, I began to back off. I didn’t want to alienate a newcomer who was trying to accept our way of thinking and eating. Instead, I changed the subject and suggested she start out by going to a few Weston A. Price chapter meetings hosted in her area. There, I told her, she’d become acquainted with other newbies who were just starting to incorporate nutrient dense foods into their diets.

I also suggested that she sign up to receive the Selene River Press newsletter, and I directed her to my Tips from the Traditional Cook blog as many of my posts are pretty much focused on this particular issue. Last but not least, I promised her that I’d write a post at a later date offering more details for her and anyone else who might need some help transitioning to a diet of nutrient dense foods. And here is that post!

Perhaps the best way to start is simply to define the words nutrient and dense as they relate to foods. Here are my favorite definitions from Merriam-Webster:

Nutrient: “A substance that is needed for healthy growth, development, and functioning.”

Dense: “Having a high mass per unit volume.”

With that in mind, let’s look at five elements that will get you started:

  1. Comparison of Two of the Most Consumed Low Nutrient vs. Nutrient Dense Foods
  2. Nutrient Dense Foods Recommended by Sally Fallon Morell
  3. Important Benefits of “Happiness Foods
  4. Profound Food and Health Secrets and Information
  5. Food Grade Supplements to Augment Your Diet (Plus Recipes)

#1. Comparison of Two of the Most Consumed Low Nutrient vs. Nutrient Dense Foods

Fats and Oils

  • Canola oil: I avoid canola oil like the plague and have for many years. The main reason is that a toxic solvent called hexane is used to extract the oil from the seeds. During this highly unnatural manufacturing process, some of the oil is damaged. You can’t tell because the oil is also deodorized, which removes the smell. One study analyzed canola and soybean oils pulled from grocery store shelves in the U.S. They found that 0.56–4.2 percent of the fatty acids in them were toxic trans-fats. This is not listed on the label, unfortunately. Read more on canola oil here.
  • Beef tallow, lard, coconut oil, etc.: All much better choices for daily use. When sourced from 100 percent grass-fed cattle, pastured hogs, and real coconuts, these fats are from the same natural sources that our ancestors used for thousands of years. When you use fats and oils with a higher saturated fat content, you’re choosing truly nutrient dense fats and oils. (Click on this link and see the green section of the chart titled “Percentage of Classified Fats for Different Fats and Oils.”)

My all time favorite is tallow, so let’s take a quick look at the nutrient dense content of grass-fed beef tallow, which contains a high ratio of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a cancer-resistant agent. Contrary to popular belief, tallow is good for our health as it’s the fat most similar to the fat and muscles in the heart. Recent studies have shown that human beings need at least 50 percent of saturated fats such as tallow and lard to keep the heart healthy. Tallow from pasture-raised cows also contains a small amount of vitamin D, similar to lard. To make your own tallow, see my blog post titled “Render Your Own Nutrient Dense Beef Tallow.”

[Editor’s note: Read the fascinating article “Traditional Wisdom on Tallow Confirmed by Science” for more in-depth information and useful links for further reading.]

Grains and Flour

  • White and/or unbleached flour: Most flour mills bleach their products with either benzoyl peroxide (the active ingredient in acne creams and hair dyes) or chlorine dioxide, a potent poison also used to bleach paper products and textiles. Some add potassium bromate to artificially strengthen the flour, and in fact commercial bakeries have relied on this “improver” to permit flour to survive the violent and/or brief mixing times and still create dough structure. Potassium bromate is a recognized carcinogen banned since 1990 in the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada—but in the U.S. the FDA has suggested only a voluntary curb.
  • Heritage grains and flour: Somewhere in our own history, we discovered the value of concentrated sources of nutrients in ancestral grains like Einkorn, Emmer, spelt, and organic wheat. When properly prepared—by soaking, sprouting, dehydrating, or leavening with wild yeasts (as in sourdough)—the nutrients stored within the grains can be easily assimilated by our own bodies and therefore supplement the animal and plant-based food that nourished us for thousands of years. Read more on heritage grains.

#2. Nutrient Dense Foods Recommended by Sally Fallon Morrell

Below are the 14 most nutrient dense foods recommended by Sally Fallon Morell (organically raised when possible).

  • Butter from grass-fed cows (preferably raw)
  • Oysters
  • Liver from grass-fed animals
  • Eggs from pastured or free range hens (if using soy in feed, it should be non-GMO soy)
  • Cod liver oil
  • Fish eggs
  • Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows
  • Bone broth
  • Wild shrimp
  • Wild salmon
  • Whole yogurt or kefir
  • Beef from grass-fed steers
  • Sauerkraut
  • Organic beets

#3. Important Benefits of “Happiness Foods”

Modern science has now elucidated the role of nutrient dense animal fats in preventing mental illness and supporting the focused, goal-oriented behavior needed to confront challenges and pursue a happy, satisfying, and successful life.

The fat-soluble vitamins are also described as “Happiness Foods” as they have a profound effect on the dopamine levels in our brain. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are the four traditionally recognized fat-soluble vitamins. The essential fatty acids arachidonic acid and DHA, however, are needed in similarly small amounts and fulfill similar functions. While all of these nutrients are important to the nervous system, arachidonic acid cooperates with vitamins A and D to promote mental health by regulating the adrenal hormone cortisol and the neurotransmitter dopamine through the potent central nervous system regulators known as endocannabinoids. Read this fascinating article by Chris Masterjohn. It’s especially important for those who are depressed or persistently sad and dissatisfied.

The Feel Good Foods

The foods that protect us against depression and help us engage in low time-preference, future-oriented activities are the same foods that traditional cultures valued for good health. They provide vitamins A and D, calcium, and arachidonic acid in abundance.

  • Cod liver oil – vitamins A and D (I personally recommend Green Pasture brand)
  • Butter from grass-fed animals – arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D
  • Egg yolks from grass-fed chickens – arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D
  • Fats from grass-fed animals – arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D
  • Organ meats from grass-fed animals – arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D
  • Bone broths – calcium
  • Raw whole milk from grass-fed animals – calcium, arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
  • Fish eggs – vitamins A and D
  • Small whole fish – calcium, vitamins A and D
  • Shellfish – vitamins A and D

#4. Profound Food and Health Secrets and Information

I also want to mention another important name on the list of great practitioners whose knowledge about the human condition, foods, and nutrients places him amongst the greatest holistic writers and inventors.

This overall mustknow-about person is Dr. Royal Lee, a close associate of Dr. Weston A. Price. The founder of Standard Process whole food supplements, Dr. Lee also made many other important discoveries that are permanently available to both the general public and holistic practitioners at the SRP Historical Archives. This is a place of learning that will amaze you. I strongly encourage you to browse the Archives and take advantage of his profound knowledge and recommendations.

#5. Food Grade Supplements to Augment Your Diet (Plus Recipes)

Cyrofood Powder: This is whole food powder made up of multiple vitamins, trace minerals, and raw veal bone meal. It’s easy to take in a smoothie and provides a wholesome full-bodied way to add quality nutrition to our diet.

Immuplex: This is a superior immune system support supplement. It combines vitamins A, C, and E with vitamin B12, folic acid, zinc, copper, chromium, iron, selenium, thymus, liver, and spleen glandular. Standard Process mentor Joseph Antell calls this the best multiple vitamin, and it’s one he often recommends.

Two Nutrient Dense Starter Recipes

Chicken or Goose Liver Pate

Nourishing Traditions, p. 171. (Note: goose liver is high in vitamin K.)

3 tablespoons butter
1 lb. chicken or duck livers, or a combination
½ lb. mushrooms, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
⅔ cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 clove garlic, mashed
¼ teaspoon dried dill
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ stick butter, softened
Salt to taste


  1. Melt butter in a heavy skillet. Add livers, onions, and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until livers are browned. Add wine, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, and herbs. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is gone.
  2. Allow to cool. Process in a food processor with the softened butter, and season to taste. Place in a crock or mold and chill well. Serve with whole grain bread or triangle croutons.

Bone Marrow Butter

This is an original recipe from Monica Corrado.

6–8 marrow bones, cut short, no longer than 2 inches tall
½ cup butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and softened
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
¼ teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped fine


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread bones out on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, marrow side up.
  2. Roast bones for 15–20 minutes, until marrow is bubbly and knife-tender all the way through. Let marrow bones cool to touch, then scoop out marrow.
  3. Add marrow, raw butter, salt, parsley and rosemary to a food processor. Blend until incorporated, and serve.
An afterthought from the Traditional Cook…

I was looking through all my cookbooks for a breakfast casserole recipe when I found this entry at the very back of a homemade cookbook assembled by Deb Dykes:

Recipe for Happiness

2 heaping cups of patience
1 heart, full of love
2 handfuls of generosity
Plenty of faith
1 handful of understanding
Dash of laughter
Generous sprinkle of kindness

Combine patience, love and generosity with understanding. Add a dash of laughter and sprinkle generously with kindness. Add plenty of faith and mix well. Spread over a period of a lifetime. Serve everyone you meet.


To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Photo from iStock/VladimirFLoyd

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semiretired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Visit her website at Also check out Maria’s Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD (also available as an e-learning course) and be sure to follow her Tips from the Traditional Cook blog.
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