Calorie Density: Is It The Key To Losing Weight

by Raksha Hegde last updated -

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If you have hit a wall in your weight loss plan, one of the reasons could be because you are eating too many high-calorie density foods. Let’s find out what calorie density is and how you can apply this in your daily diet to improve your health and lose weight.

What is Calorie Density?

Calorie density, also known as energy density, is the number of calories in food as compared to its weight or volume. Foods, like green vegetables, melons, and berries, that are high in fiber and water are usually low-calorie-density foods. For weight loss and management, it is important to know about calorie density. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating bigger portions of low-calorie density foods can help to increase satiety as well as manage and lose weight.

According to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, water and fiber lower the calorie density of foods. This is because water has an energy density of 0 kcal/g and fiber has a range of energy density that lies between 1.5-2.5 kcal/g. On the other hand, carbohydrates and proteins have 4 kcal/g. Fat is the most calorie-dense food component with 9 kcal/g.

Top view of people enjoying vegetarian foods like hummus, salads, and bread

You can rustle up a sumptuous vegetarian meal in half an hour or less. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

High-Calorie Density Foods

Let’s take a look at most commonly consumed foods with a high-calorie density.

  • Fast food: A study published in the Obesity Reviews showed that the calorie density of fast foods is more than twice that of traditional, recommended healthy diets.
  • Oils: Cooking oils are naturally energy-dense. However, oils like coconut oil and olive oil have several health properties that are needed by the body. Oils should not be avoided; instead, they should be had in moderation.
  • Nuts: Peanuts are energy-dense with 100 grams packing 567 calories, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. While nuts are loaded with healthy fats, they should be incorporated in limited portions in the diet. According to a report by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a handful of walnuts could cause a weight gain of 10 pounds or more a year, if the overall diet is not healthy and there is lack of physical exercise.
  • Starchy vegetables: Vegetables like corn and sweet potato are more energy-dense as compared to broccoli and green pepper. For instance, half a cup of boiled corn has 72 calories and 15.6 grams of carbohydrates while half a cup of boiled broccoli contains only 27 calories and 5.6 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Cheese: Certain kinds of cheese like gruyere, parmesan, and manchego have a calorie count of more than 100 calories per ounce.

Low-Calorie Density Foods

Here is the list of foods with a low-calorie density that is recommended as staples in the pantry for a healthy diet.

  • Green vegetables: Spinach and kale have a low-calorie count as compared to their volume. Vegetables like peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and lettuce are also low in energy density due to their high water content.
  • Fruits with high water content: Melons like watermelon, muskmelon, and cantaloupe are good options for fruits with low energy density. You can also have a bigger amount of berries and oranges as they have fewer calories.
  • Unsweetened or lightly sweetened tea or coffee: According to Elsevier’s Physiology & Behaviour journal, lightly sweetened tea and coffee, as well as diet soda, are low-calorie density beverages. On the other hand, sweetened tea, coffee, beverages like full-fat milk and smoothies, as well as nut milk like coconut milk are high-calorie density.
  • White meatChicken and fish are of moderate calorie density and when baked, broiled, or grilled with minimal fat, they make a nutritious lean protein choice. They are healthier choices when compared to fatty meats like lamb, sausages, certain cuts of pork, and processed meats like salami.

Weight Loss Using Calorie Density

Research from a yearlong clinical trial by Penn State revealed that overweight women lost more weight and kept it off when they added water-rich, or low-calorie density, foods to their diet as compared to those who reduced only fat. Here are tips from the CDC research brief on how to lose weight using a mix of low-calorie and high-calorie density foods.

  • Broth-based soups are low in energy density and filling too.
  • Salads with sauteed spinach, kale, cauliflower, or brocolli are high in fiber and low in calories.
  • You can add vegetables like zucchini in chili and casseroles to reduce the calorie density.
  • Opt for unsweetened frozen yogurt and berries instead of ice cream.
  • Boiled potatoes with seasonings or baked potato wedges are healthier than French fries.
  • Sip on fruit-infused water to make your beverages more interesting.
  • Start your meal with a simple green salad with a dressing of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Make your porridge with water instead of full-fat milk.

Takeaway

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, it is best to consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats and added sugars as they add to the energy density of foods. So, eat a mix of fruits and vegetables with broth-based soups to keep your diet healthy and low in calorie density!

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About the Author

Raksha Hegde is the content director at Organic Facts and helps oversee a team of brilliant, dynamic content writers. She completed her MS in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University, US. A former business news journalist and editor, Raksha followed her passion for wellness to become a certified Yoga teacher and a wellness festival curator. She believes that learning is a life-long process; she did a certificate e-course on “Introduction to Food and Health” in 2019 from Stanford University, US. 

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