Choosing lower calorie foods, i.e. a larger portion with fewer calories, can help you lose weight and control your hunger.
Feel full with fewer calories? It might sound like another weight loss trick, but it’s not. The concept of energy density can actually help with weight loss. In fact, well-planned weight loss diets, such as the Mayo Clinic diet, use the concept of energy density to help you lose weight and keep it off over the long term.
Lose weight with more food and fewer calories
Simply put, energy density is the number of calories (energy) contained in a specific amount of food. High energy density means there are a lot of calories in a small amount of food. Low energy density means that there are few calories in a large amount of food. When looking to lose weight, one strategy is to eat foods that are low in energy density. In other words, you want to eat more foods that contain fewer calories. This helps you feel fuller with fewer calories.
Here’s a quick example with raisins and grapes. Raisins have a high energy density, 1 cup of raisins contains around 480 calories. Grapes have a low energy density, 1 cup of grapes contains about 104 calories.
The keys to energy density and weight loss
Three main factors play a role in the high or low energy density of a food:
Fruits and vegetables are generally high in water and fiber, which add bulk and weight but not calories. This is why they are low energy density foods. Grapefruit, for example, is about 90% water. Half a grapefruit contains only 64 calories. Fresh, raw carrots are about 88% water. A medium carrot only contains about 25 calories.
Fiber-rich foods not only provide bulk but also take longer to digest, allowing you to feel full longer on fewer calories. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains all contain fiber. Popcorn is a good example of a high-volume, low-calorie whole grain. A cup of open-popped popcorn contains about 30 calories.
Fats have a high energy density. A wafer of butter, for example, contains almost the same number of calories as 2 cups of raw broccoli. Foods that naturally contain fat, such as different meats, or foods that have added fat are higher in calories than their leaner or lower fat counterparts.
It is never easy to change your lifestyle. And creating a food plan using the concept of energy density is no exception. The first step is to know which foods are the best choices in terms of energy density.
Here is an overview of the energy density of certain foods
Most vegetables are very low in calories, but high in volume or weight. Most vegetables contain water and fiber, which makes it possible to gain weight without calories. Here are some examples:
To add more vegetables to your diet, top your pasta with sautéed vegetables instead of meat or cheese sauce. Decrease the portion of meat on your plate and increase the portion of vegetables. Add vegetables to your sandwiches. Snack on raw vegetables.
Almost all types of fruit are part of a healthy diet. But some fruits are lower calorie choices than others. Fresh, frozen, and canned whole fruits without syrup are good options. In contrast, fruit juices and dried fruits are concentrated sources of natural sugar and therefore have a high energy density, more calories, and they don’t fill you up as much. To incorporate more fruit into your diet, add blueberries to your cereal in the morning. Try mango or peach slices on whole wheat toast. Or add tangerine and peach slices to your salad. Store whole fruit in a bowl where you can see it or in the fridge and eat it whenever you want.
Many carbohydrates are grains or grain products, such as cereals, rice, bread, and pasta. Whole grains are the best option because they are higher in fiber and other important nutrients. Emphasize whole grains by simply choosing options made with whole grains over refined grains, including foods made with sugar or white flour. For example, choose:
Whole wheat bread
Whole wheat pasta
Since many carbs have a higher energy density, watch portion sizes.
Proteins and dairy products
These are foods of plant and animal origin. The healthiest and least energy-dense choices are foods high in protein but low in fat and calories, such as:
Beans, peas and lentils, which are also good sources of fiber.
Lean meat and poultry
Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
Although fats are energy-dense foods, some fats are healthier than others. Include small amounts of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet. Nuts, seeds and oils, such as olive, flax and safflower oils, contain healthy fats. Limit saturated fats and trans fats, such as butter.
Like fats, sweets generally have a high energy density. Good options for sweets are those that are low in added fat and contain healthy ingredients, such as fruit, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. It can be, for example, fresh fruit topped with low-fat yogurt, a biscuit made from wholemeal flour or a small amount of dark chocolate. For sweets, make sure the portion is small and the ingredients are healthy. Even a small piece of dark chocolate can fit into a weight loss program.
Making energy density work for you
When you embrace the concept of energy density, you don’t need to starve or deprive yourself. By including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains in your diet, you can feel fuller with fewer calories. You can even afford to eat a candy occasionally.
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