Nutrient Density and Restricted Calorie Diets

Table full of delicious meats

Achieving peak physical performance and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is all about making the right choices, whether it’s your blood-burning workouts, your sleep habits, the way you manage your stress and… of course… what you stuff in your hungry mouth, ESPECIALLY when you’re on a restricted calorie diet for one reason or another, whether it's to lose weight or something else entirely.

When it comes to your diet, particularly on a restricted calorie regimen for weight loss or other reasons, it's not just about how much you eat but WHAT you eat. So many misguided “dieticians” will drone on about “calories in vs. calories out,” pushing processed foods without giving a second thought to macronutrients, micronutrients, nutrient-density, and how the combination of these things affects calories out in the first fucking place. I hate that shit. 


 Nutrient dense intake is the key to unlocking your full potential, even when trying to lose weight, and we're going to delve into the necessity of fat-soluble vitamins on such a diet, no matter the reason, whether you’re just trying to live in a deficit to shed body-fat, or if you’re recovering from surgery, or you’re on a drug that affects your appetite. The need for nutrient density is critical.

We’re going to look at the specific needs for nutrient-dense foods based on the reasons behind restricted calorie diets as certain reasons present unique challenges.

Nutrient Density

Before we dive deep into fat-soluble vitamins, let's set the stage with a fundamental concept – nutrient density. On a restricted calorie diet, every bite should, and does, count. Processed foods are not your friend here. Nutrient-dense foods provide the biggest nutritional bang for your caloric buck. They are the gold standard in any health-conscious person's diet, and they should be your North Star too. Just eating less won’t cut it unless the only thing that matters to you is the stupid number on the stupid scale, rather than body-composition, health, longevity, and a bunch of other important shit.

What Is Nutrient Density?

It is a measure of the amount of essential nutrients a food provides compared to the number of calories it contains. In other words, it's about getting the most nutrition for every calorie you consume. It's not just about macros (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), but also about the abundance of vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds in your food.

Low-Calorie Conundrum

Now, let's address the elephant in the room – the restricted calorie diet. Cutting calories is often a necessary step in shedding excess body fat (especially visceral fat), and there's nothing wrong with that. However, when you reduce your calorie intake, it's easy to fall into the trap of consuming bullshit empty calories, which means you're not getting the nutrients you need. This can lead to a myriad of problems, including fatigue, sarcopenia (muscle loss), and overall sluggishness. Consuming low energy density foods that are rich in nutrients can be a game changer. A nutrient dense diet can also be low in calories if done right.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K, are the true champions of nutrient density on a restricted calorie diet. They are a lifeline in ensuring you get the most out of every calorie while maintaining your health and vitality. They affect hormone balance, immune function, sleep, muscle retention, and a lot more. Oftentimes people talk about a "balanced diet" when referring to the USDA food pyramid, but it isn't balanced and misses the fat soluble boat entirely.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a critical player in maintaining good vision. Not just that, it's essential for your immune system and skin health. Maintaining a robust immune system is non-negotiable, especially if you’re doing what you need to do in the gym. Your intense, blood-burning workouts require a strong defense against pathogens, and vitamin A has your back.

Where can you find vitamin A? Ditch the baked goods and white bread on the food pyramid and opt for animal products like liver, eggs, and cottage cheese. These nutrient-dense sources are packed with vitamin A, ensuring you're seeing your fitness goals clearly.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is often dubbed the "sunshine vitamin" because your body can produce it when your skin is exposed to sunlight, but ONLY when you’ve consumed enough cholesterol to synthesize it… so while we’re talking about Vitamin D, we have to talk about cholesterol. When you're on a restricted calorie diet, it's vital to consider your vitamin D and cholesterol intake because it's not just about bone health. Vitamin D is a key player in your immune system, too.

To keep your vitamin D levels in check, don't skip the fatty fish and cottage cheese. These sources will ensure that your body gets its daily dose of this essential nutrient. After all, a strong immune system is critical to literally everything else.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is like your body's personal bodyguard. It's an antioxidant, protecting your cells from oxidative stress. This is crucial for overall health, especially when you're pushing your limits in the gym. After all, you don't want those hard-earned muscles to be attacked by free radicals, right?

Where do you get Vitamin E? If you guessed it's not from fucking white bread, you're right... Fatty fish are rich sources of vitamin E, and the best part is, they're nutrient-dense and packed with hormone optimizing omega 3 fatty acids to keep you going strong. Including these in your diet on a restricted calorie plan can ensure you stay on the path to success.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K might not be as famous as its counterparts, but it plays a vital role in blood clotting and bone health. For someone who's always challenging their body, like we all should be, ensuring that your bones stay strong and your blood clots when needed is imperative.

Liver, meat, milk, and eggs are your go-to sources for your restricted calorie diet. They not only provide the vital vitamin K but also offer a plethora of other essential nutrients.

Dietary Fat

Now, let's get real about something crucial – the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. To make the most of these vitamins, you need dietary fats. Without dietary fats, your body might struggle to absorb these vitamins efficiently, and all your efforts at consuming a nutrient dense diet are for fucking nothing. The health benefits of dietary fat cannot be overstated.

Remember… fats are your allies. Foods like ribeye, avocados, butter, and fatty fish not only provide essential fatty acids but also make sure you're getting the most out of those fat-soluble vitamins. They're calorie-dense, but they're also nutrient-dense, and that's the sweet spot for someone on a restricted calorie diet. A healthy diet is one that has all of these things.

Nutrient density is everything

In a world where shortcuts are a no-go, a healthy diet with nutrient density and fat-soluble vitamins are fucking weapons. They make sure you're not just surviving on your restricted calorie diet; you're thriving. You're maintaining your vision, bolstering your immune system, protecting your cells, and ensuring strong bones and proper blood clotting.

Reasons: restricted calorie diets

Regardless of WHY you’re on a restricted calorie diet, nutrient-density is critical to your well-being, muscle retention, and longevity. Let’s get into a few of these reasons and the unique challenges they present.

Gastric bypass

I don’t love the idea of gastric bypass surgery. I think there are far less-invasive, far better interventions for drastic weight loss than gastric bypass or other surgeries, but the fact remains that some people will still go down this road and I want these people to maximize their results and have the most positive experience possible, so I’m going to discuss it.

After gastric bypass surgery, the importance of nutrient-dense food choices cannot be overstated… at all. This surgical procedure significantly alters your digestive system, making it crucial to select the right foods to ensure your health and well-being. Let's get specific about why nutrient-dense foods are your best bet post-surgery.

Limited Capacity

Gastric bypass surgery reduces the size of your stomach, limiting its capacity to hold food. Nutrient-dense foods are essential because you must make every bite count. High-calorie, low-nutrient foods are out of the question because you need to provide your body with the necessary vitamins, minerals, and energy within a limited quantity of food. A healthy diet is paramount to get the most out of your weight loss.


The surgery not only reduces the size of your stomach but also bypasses a portion of your small intestine where nutrient absorption occurs. As a result, you're at a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies. Nutrient-dense foods, rich in vitamins and minerals, help compensate for this reduced absorption capacity, ensuring your body gets the essential nutrients it needs, especially with a low calorie count.


Nutrient-dense foods provide a steady and sustained supply of energy, helping you avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes. After gastric bypass surgery, you want to maintain stable energy levels to support your daily activities and exercise routines.

Muscle Preservation

When you're losing weight rapidly after surgery, it's vital to preserve muscle mass. Protein-rich, nutrient-dense foods play a significant role in muscle maintenance. They help ensure you're losing fat, not muscle, and that you're still strong and able to maintain your physical fitness. Otherwise, you’ll just be skinny-fat and undermuscled. That’s just as bad as being super fat.

Reduced Hunger

Protein-rich, nutrient-dense foods can help keep you feeling full for longer, reducing hunger and cravings. This is crucial in preventing overeating or making poor food choices, which could jeopardize your weight loss and overall health goals. Overeating after a gastric bypass can literally be deadly. I got an email recently from a gentleman who overate and blew his stomach out after a gastric bypass and ended up in the hospital for months.


Nutrient-dense foods support the healing process after surgery. They provide your body with the necessary building blocks for tissue repair and immune function, reducing the risk of postoperative complications.

Bone Health

Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health. Nutrient-dense dairy products, bone, and collagen can help you maintain strong bones, which is especially important as some nutrients like vitamin D are less efficiently absorbed post-surgery.

Immune System

Nutrient-dense foods are loaded with antioxidants and other immune-boosting compounds. After surgery, when your body is more vulnerable, a strong immune system is vital in preventing infections and illnesses.

Long-Term Success

Choosing nutrient-dense foods is not just a short-term necessity; it's a strategy for long-term success. These foods become a cornerstone of your post-surgery lifestyle. They help you not only lose weight but also maintain it, which is essential for preventing obesity-related health issues which, according to Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, is a driver toward death from 9 of the 10 leading causes.

In your journey after gastric bypass surgery, remember that nutrient-dense foods are your best allies. They provide the necessary nutrients, sustain your energy levels, preserve muscle, and support your overall health. Be strategic about your food choices, focus on quality over quantity, and maintain your commitment to health and fitness. In this new chapter of your life, nutrient density is your compass for a brighter, healthier future.

Other surgeries

Whilst my focus here has been on postoperative diet strategies for gastric bypass, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this applies to all sorts of surgeries that involve the stomach and digestive system. This includes surgeries for Crohn’s, colitis, cancers, and a lot more. In fact, when it comes to cancer, sarcopenia is responsible for as much as 20% deaths after treatment. That means that muscle preservation is critical and cannot happen without nutrient-dense food selection.

Nutrient-density and Semaglutide

Semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro) is a medication used to treat obesity and, more specifically, to aid in weight management. It works by mimicking the effects of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a hormone that regulates appetite and glucose levels. When discussing nutrient-dense food choices in the context of semaglutide treatment, we must consider its mechanism of action, including its impact on gastric emptying. I’ve written all about how I fucking hate this class of drugs. I’ve talked about how the deterioration of lean tissue actually makes your body fat go UP as you shed pounds. I think it’s dangerous and a terrible idea, but IF you’re going to do it anyway, let’s talk about how to best mitigate certain issues.

Nutrient-Dense Foods for Satiety

Semaglutide is known to increase feelings of fullness and reduce appetite. This makes nutrient-dense foods even more crucial. Since you're likely to eat less due to the medication's effects on hunger, it's essential that the food you do consume is packed with essential nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods help ensure that you're meeting your nutritional needs, even when your overall food intake is reduced.

Nutrient Absorption

Semaglutide can slow down gastric emptying, which means food stays in your stomach longer. This delay in gastric emptying really fucks up absorption of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Opting for nutrient-dense foods ensures that you're making the most of this extended period during which your body hardly absorbs essential nutrients.

Energy Balance

While semaglutide helps with weight loss by curbing your appetite, it's important to maintain a healthy energy balance. Nutrient-dense foods provide the necessary energy to fuel your body and support your daily activities while still promoting weight loss. These foods supply the fuel your body needs without the empty calories that can hinder weight management.

Muscle Preservation

As you lose weight with semaglutide, preserving lean muscle mass is critical. Protein-rich, nutrient-dense foods play a crucial role in muscle maintenance. They ensure you're losing fat, not muscle, which is vital for your overall fitness and metabolic health. This may be the MOST IMPORTANT reason when it comes to this class of medication.

Balanced Blood Sugar

Semaglutide also has a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels. Nutrient-dense foods help in maintaining stable blood sugar levels, providing a steady source of energy while avoiding spikes and crashes. This is particularly important if you have underlying diabetes or are at risk for it. This was the original intent behind these meds before the pharmaceutical industry saw dollar signs when considering it for weight loss.

Immune Support

Nutrient-dense foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support your immune system. This is important, as obesity can be associated with immune system dysregulation. A strong immune system is crucial for overall health and well-being.

Long-Term Success

Like in the case of gastric bypass surgery, nutrient-dense foods remain central to long-term success. They are not just a short-term strategy but become an integral part of your lifestyle. Nutrient-dense foods help you maintain your desired weight and support your ongoing health and fitness goals.

In the context of semaglutide treatment, delayed gastric emptying means that nutrient-dense food choices are paramount as fuck. These foods provide an extended opportunity for nutrient absorption, helping you meet your nutritional needs more effectively. By choosing nutrient-dense options, you're making the most of your weight management journey, ensuring that you not only lose weight but also maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Remember, you're in control of your journey, and nutrient-dense foods are your allies in achieving and maintaining your health and fitness goals with the support of semaglutide.

Metformin and nutrient-density

Nutrient density remains a critical consideration when you're taking metformin, a medication commonly prescribed to manage type 2 diabetes. Metformin is another drug I hate due to crazy side effects like genital birth defects in children born to men who take… but people are still going to take this garbage, so what is it?

I works by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing the production of glucose by the liver. To make the most of this medication and maintain your overall health, nutrient-dense food choices are crucial.

Blood Sugar Management

Metformin primarily targets blood sugar control. Nutrient-dense foods, particularly those low in added sugars and refined carbohydrates, help you maintain stable blood sugar levels. These foods have a lower glycemic index, meaning they cause a slower and more controlled rise in blood sugar. This can help you better manage your diabetes and reduce the risk of blood sugar spikes and crashes.

Weight Management

Metformin is also associated with weight loss or weight maintenance, which is beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. Nutrient-dense foods play a vital role in weight management. They provide essential nutrients while often being lower in calories, making it easier to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Nutrient Absorption

Metformin can affect the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12 and folate. Nutrient-dense foods rich in these nutrients can help compensate for potential deficiencies that may occur with long-term metformin use.

Other Health Concerns

Nutrient-dense foods can address other health concerns commonly associated with diabetes, such as hypertension. Foods rich in potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants can contribute to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of cardiovascular events.

Gut Health

Metformin may have an impact on gut health, as it can alter the composition of the gut microbiota. Nutrient-dense foods can support a healthy gut microbiome. A balanced and diverse gut microbiota is essential for overall well-being and may help mitigate some of the potential gastrointestinal side effects of metformin.

Long-Term Wellness

 Diabetes is a chronic condition, and managing it effectively requires a long-term approach. Nutrient-dense foods provide the foundation for a sustainable, health-focused lifestyle. They can help you maintain good health and well-being well beyond the immediate impact of your medication.

When you're taking metformin, nutrient-dense food choices are a linchpin of your overall diabetes management and health. They help you maintain blood sugar control, manage your weight, and address potential nutrient deficiencies associated with the medication. Nutrient-dense foods support your cardiovascular health, gut health, and other aspects of your overall well-being. By making these choices, you're not just managing your diabetes – you're setting the stage for a healthier and more vibrant life.

Opioids and nutrient-density

I fucking hate these drugs. I don’t think there’s a justified use of them apart from their original intent of keeping terminally ill patients comfortable as they die. They were never designed for you to be able to quit and there are better options than chronically using these addictive, mind-altering, “pain management” drugs that destroy your liver AND your quality of life. But… I have to discuss this because people are going to take these insidious substances and there’s not a fucking thing I can do about it but educate them on how to maximize their health whilst on them.

Opioids, a class of drugs commonly used to manage pain, can have several adverse effects on nutrient absorption and overall nutritional status. These effects are a significant concern for individuals who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain management. Let's delve into how opioids impact nutrient absorption and why this is a critical consideration.

Gastrointestinal Slowing:

  • Opioids slow down the movement of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to constipation. This can result in the reduced absorption of nutrients from the gut, as food spends more time in the digestive system.
  • Nutrient absorption, particularly of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), may be compromised as the transit time in the intestine increases.

Decreased Appetite:

  • Opioids can suppress appetite, leading to reduced food intake. This decreased caloric consumption can result in a lower intake of essential nutrients.
  • Inadequate calorie and nutrient intake can contribute to malnutrition, impacting overall health and recovery.

Nutrient Malabsorption:

  • Chronic opioid use can interfere with the absorption of specific nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and iron.
  • Malabsorption can lead to deficiencies in these essential minerals, which are vital for various bodily functions, including bone health and energy production.

Alteration of Gut Microbiota:

  • Opioids can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota, leading to changes in the composition of gut bacteria.
  • An imbalanced gut microbiome can affect nutrient metabolism, potentially leading to deficiencies.

Increased Risk of Gastrointestinal Disorders:

  • Prolonged use of opioids may increase the risk of gastrointestinal disorders, such as gastritis and ulcers. These conditions can impair the absorption of several nutrients and lead to further malnutrition.

Risk of Dehydration:

  • Opioids can cause excessive sweating and reduced fluid intake, potentially leading to dehydration.
  • Dehydration can impair overall bodily functions, including the absorption of nutrients.

Impact on Bone Health:

  • Long-term opioid use may have implications for bone health due to the potential disruption of calcium and vitamin D absorption.
  • This can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

Nutritional Support:

  • For individuals on chronic opioid therapy, healthcare providers often recommend nutritional support, including vitamin and mineral supplementation, to counteract potential deficiencies.
  • Maintaining a balanced diet with nutrient-dense foods can also help mitigate some of the adverse effects on nutrient absorption.

The bottom line is that opioids can have a detrimental impact on nutrient absorption and overall nutritional status. Individuals on chronic opioid therapy should be closely monitored for nutritional deficiencies and associated health complications. Healthcare providers may recommend dietary modifications, nutrient supplementation, and other interventions to help mitigate these effects and support the patient's overall well-being. It is crucial to consider the nutritional aspect of opioid therapy to ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals managing pain with these medications.

Nutrient density and restricted calories diets is a long overdue conversation that has been neglected by nutritionists, doctors, dieticians, and other healthcare practitioners for far too long.

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