If you choose foods that are low in energy density, low in calories for their mass, you can eat more volume but consume fewer calories.
Feel full with fewer calories? It may seem like another gimmick for weight loss. But this is not the case. This concept is called energy density, and it is an important tool for weight loss.
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 you’re trying to lose weight, your goal is to eat foods that are low in energy density. This helps you feel fuller with fewer calories. Here’s a quick example with raisins and berries. Raisins have a high energy density, one cup of raisins contains around 434 calories. Grapes have a low energy density: a cup of grapes contains about 82 calories. You may feel full after a cup of either fruit, but the difference in calories is staggering!
Energy density and the food pyramid
Here is an overview of energy density by categories. As you can see, energy density is the underlying principle of the healthy weight pyramid.
Most vegetables are low in calories, but high in volume or weight. Many vegetables contain water, which makes it possible to gain weight without calories. Examples include green salads, asparagus, green beans, broccoli and zucchini. To add more vegetables to your diet, top your pasta with sautéed vegetables instead of meat or cheese sauce. Reduce the amount of meat on your plate and increase the amount of vegetables. Add vegetables to your sandwiches. Snack on raw vegetables.
Virtually all types of fruit fit into a healthy diet. But some fruits are lower in calories 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. So they 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 with a little peanut butter and honey. You can also add sliced tangerines and peaches to a salad.
Many carbohydrates are either grains or made from grains, 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 whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole grains over refined grains. However, since many carbs have a higher energy density, keep an eye on portion sizes.
Proteins and dairy products
These are foodstuffs of plant and animal origin. The healthiest and lowest energy choices are foods high in protein but low in fat, such as legumes (beans, peas and lentils, which are also good sources of fibre), fish, white-fleshed poultry without skin, fat-free dairy products and egg whites.
While 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, flaxseed and safflower oils, contain healthy fats.
Like fats, sweets have a high energy density. Good options for sweets include those that are low in added fat and contain healthy ingredients, such as fruit, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. The key to successful sweets is reducing portion sizes and using healthy ingredients. Even a small piece of dark chocolate can fit into a weight loss program.
Energy density at the service of your health
When you stick to the concept of energy density, you don’t need to feel starved or deprived. By including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains in your diet, you can feel fuller with fewer calories. You may even have room in your diet for the occasional tasty candy. By eating larger portions of low-energy-dense foods, you quell those hunger pangs, take in fewer calories, and feel better about your meal, all of which contributes to your overall satisfaction.
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