Nutrition: Calorie Density Approach to Nutrition and Weight Management

Imagine a weight management program that is easy to understand and follow, where you are able to eat more food for fewer calories, and lose weight without feeling hungry. Sounds make-believe! However, this approach is not as farfetched when focusing on the calorie density of foods.

What does calorie density mean? It is simply the measure of how many calories are in a given weight of the food. For example, one pound of doughnuts contains over 2000 calories making it a calorically dense food item compared to one pound of grapes which contains only 306 calories. The chart below gives examples of food items and the number of calories per pound. A typical individual eats the same weight in food at each meal. Therefore, one can eat a larger amount of low-calorie dense foods than high-calorie dense food for the same amount of calories. Subsequently, consuming foods with a lower caloric density will allow us not only to eat as much or more food but reducing caloric intake as well.

Most of these low calorically dense food items, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, can be high in satiety due to the amount of fiber. These foods also have high water content which of course does not contain any calories. Lastly, they are packed with the most nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Below are some tips on how to incorporate caloric density into your daily eating habits.

Eat only when you are hungry. Sounds easy enough, however, many can find themselves eating when they are bored. Aim to eat until you feel about 80% full after each meal.

Do not drink your calories. Liquids do not fill you up as much as solid food does. Water should be the beverage of choice.

Make low-calorie dense foods the bulk of your plate. At least half or preferably more of your plate should be whole grains, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, beans, and fruit. This will be a sure way to feel full and satisfied.

Watch out for the use of oils in your meals. Oils, like olive oil and vegetable oils, are the most calorically dense food with 130 calories per tablespoon. Avoiding fried foods as well as drenching your salads in oil can help with keeping meals lower in calories while still filling you up.

Treat high caloric dense foods as condiments or side dishes. Most restaurants fall dupe to this by having a giant steak take up the entire plate with a little broccoli floret hanging out on the side. Change this habit and make the nutrient-dense foods the star of the plate.