The Importance of Energy Density for Weight Loss
There a plethora of ways to achieve your goal of losing those extra few pounds. Have you ever considered eating more food with the consumption of fewer calories to reduce belly fat? If you haven’t, then energy (or calorie) density is something that you should be aware of. Energy density is the number of calories in a given amount/serving of food. For weight control, the best technique is to choose foods that have fewer calories but give you that feeling of fullness.
High energy density refers to a rich calorie count in one serving of a particular food item. Conversely, low energy density refers to a low calorie count in one serving of a particular food item. When your goal is weight loss, low-density foods are your best friends. Take raisins and grapes for instance: 1 cup of raisins has 434 calories, making it a high energy dense food. 1 cup of grapes on the other hand has 82 calories, making it a low energy dense food. The difference in calories in the same serving size (1 cup) is clearly evident.
What Determines High or Low Energy Density
There are certain factors that determine whether a food has high or low energy density:
Since water virtually has no calories, fruits and vegetables that have a high water content are low-energy dense foods. For example, a grapefruit is about 90% water, and half a grapefruit has a calorie count of 37 calories. Fresh carrots have 88% water content, and a medium carrot has only 25 calories. To see a list of fruits and vegetable and their respective water content, refer to: Water Content of Fruits and Vegetables
High fiber foods take longer to digest, making you feel fuller for longer periods of time. Vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains all contain high amounts of fiber which contributes to their low caloric content. To learn more about fiber, read the Importance of Fiber in Your Diet.
Foods that are high in fat content are usually also high in energy density. Fatty foods are high caloric foods, consisting of 9 calories per gram of fat. Our bodies only need limited quantities of fats to meet its daily requirement. For example, a teaspoon of butter (small amount of serving right?) has roughly the same number of calories as 2 cups of broccoli.
Energy Density of Certain Foods
Undergoing a lifestyle change can seem like a daunting task at first. In fact, creating an eating plan to aid you in your weight loss goals does not make the job any easier. In this regard, knowing the energy density of a given food item will help you create your healthy dietary schedule. Let’s discuss high and low energy dense foods by categories.
Some fruits have a lower calorie count than others. Fresh, frozen and canned fruits without syrups are healthy options. In contrast, concentrated fruit juices and dried fruits have natural sugar and are higher in calories as compared to fresh fruits. Some examples of fruit that offer a low energy density are peaches, melon, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
Most vegetables are low in calories and rich in fiber. Many vegetables have a high water content, which provides bulk without calories. Vegetables are also lower in calories than fruits because vegetables do not contain fructose, a sugar compound that is naturally found in several fruits. Like fruits, choose fresh or frozen vegetables. The serving size of raw or cooked vegetables is 1 cup. The serving size for leafy greens such as kale, spinach or lettuce is 2 cups. Examples of low energy density vegetables include asparagus, cucumber, green beans, spinach, onions, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms.
Many carbohydrates are either grains or made from grains. Examples of grain products include cereal, rice, pasta and bread. Carbohydrates are generally higher in energy density; but you should opt for complex carbohydrates since they are a healthier option. Complex carbs are found in whole grains, specifically brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, whole-grain cereal and oatmeal.
You can get protein from both plant and animal sources. According to experts, a 1 ounce serving of lean protein food provides 35 calories, significantly fewer calories than a medium fat protein food which can contain up to 75 calories for that same serving size. So opt to choose lean protein for a healthier and lower energy density dietary option. Some examples of lean protein are skinless turkey or chicken breast, legumes (beans, peas and lentils, which are also high in fiber) fat-free fish such as tuna canned in water, shellfish such as lobster or shrimp, and egg whites (egg without the yellow yolk).
As long as they are unsweetened or sweetened with a non-nutritive sweetener, low-fat and non-fat dairy products are low energy density foods. Such examples are low/nonfat milk, yoghurt, and cheese.
While fats are high energy density foods, some fats are better than others. Add small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Examples of these include nuts, seeds and oils (olive oil, safflower oil). For more information regarding fats, read Not All Fats are Bad for you! If you want to know which oil you should use in your cooking, read Good Oils vs. Bad Oils: Make the Right Choice.
Sweets are also high in energy density. Opt for desserts that are low in added sugars and those that generally contain healthy ingredients such as fruits, whole grains and low fat dairy.
Determining Energy Densities of Food
You can determine the calorie counts of different foods if you read the nutrition label carefully. Make sure you read Do You Read the Nutrition Label?
Here’s how you can determine the energy densities of the food that you purchase:
- First, locate the label on the back of your packaged food item.
- Then, find the serving size of the food. Apart from the serving size, you’ll find the weight of the serving in grams.
- Then, look for the number of calories per serving. You’ll find this under “Amount per Serving.” The calories per serving are usually expressed in kcal.
- Finally, divide the number of calories per serving by the number of grams in one serving.
Let’s take an example. Suppose your food contains 180 calories per serving and one serving equals to 90 grams. If you divide 180 by 90, you’ll get 2. And that’s you’re energy density.
Generally speaking, foods that have a calorie density of 0.6 or less are the best and you can eat large portions of these. They include fruits and non-starchy vegetables. You should eat reasonable portions of foods that have a calorie density of 0.7-1.5. These include whole grains, legumes, lean protein and low-fat dairy products. You should eat very modest amounts of food that are above a calorie density of 1.5, which can include higher-fat meats, desserts and simple carbs.