What is Calorie Density?

Calorie density is the simplest approach to healthful eating and lifelong weight management. This common sense approach to sound nutrition allows for lifelong weight management without hunger; more food for fewer calories, and is easy to understand and follow. In addition, by following the principles of calorie density, you will also increase the overall nutrient density of your diet. Nutrient dense foods give you the most nutrients for the fewest amount of calories. In other words, nutrient dense foods give you the “biggest bang for the buck.” You get lots of nutrients, and it doesn’t cost you much in terms of calories. The basic principles of calorie density are really quite simple.

Definition: Calorie density is simply a measure of how much energy (calories) is provided per unit measure of food. Usually expressed as calories per pound.

Example:
1 lb. of vegetables = 100 calories (approx.)
1 lb. of ground beef = 1000 calories (approx.) – regular ground not lean

Calorie dense foods, (high in calorie density) such as beef, chicken, refined sugars, provide many calories in a small amount of food and provide less nutrients than whole plant foods.

Foods with low calorie density — fruits, vegetables — provide fewer total calories and greater nutrition in a larger volume of food. Therefore, by following a diet lower in calorie density, one also automatically consumes a diet higher in nutrient density.

All Calories Are Not Equal !

The image below gives an excellent picture of what calorie density looks like and why when consuming foods high in calories density (on right side) i.e., the Standard American Diet (SAD)–which is mostly based on animal-based products and processed foods including vegetable oils–many Americans consume too many calories and are vitamin and mineral deficient.
Calorie Density Image 2

As you can see foods low in calorie density fill the stomach (satiety) and the foods high in calorie density don’t fill the stomach. Just imagine how a person could consume many more calories in just one meal, easily adding hundreds more calories in just one meal because your stomach is not full. As you can see with the potatoes it is even overflowing because the stomach is full and when that happens your brain is sent a signal, via stomach stretch receptors, that you are full and you can’t eat anymore. With foods high in calorie density it is easier to overeat.

Summary
Calorie density really is a common-sense approach to sound nutrition and is the cornerstone of good health. It is the simplest way to lose and/or manage your weight for life; more food for fewer calories, and is easy to understand and follow. By following a few simple principles, you will increase the amount of food on your plate while decreasing your overall caloric intake, all without ever having to go hungry. At the same time, you will be optimizing your overall nutrient intake (vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, essential fats, etc.).

Studies have shown that diets based on low calorie density foods tend to be more healthy and effective for weight management. So, eat freely of unrefined, unprocessed fruits, veggies, starchy veggies, intact whole grains and legumes without the addition of salt, sugar and/or fat/oil and you will reap the benefits of a healthy nutrient-dense diet.