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What is Low Calorie Density?


bowl of salad and bottle of oil
Skip oily salad dressing to reduce your calorie intake.

What is Calorie Density?


Calorie density is the energy or calories contained in a specific amount of food or drink. It is usually measured in calories per gram (or ounce). Foods with high calorie density contain many calories in a small weight. Foods with low calorie density have fewer calories than the same weight of high calorie density foods. Some examples of low-calorie foods are fruits and vegetables. Nuts, oils, and, unfortunately, chocolate are calorically dense foods.


Calorie density is an important concept to understand as it will assist you with weight management. Foods with low calorie density tend to be more filling as they are typically bulkier and contain more water and fibre. These foods occupy more space in your stomach and keep you hydrated, leading to greater satiety.


These factors make it easier to avoid overeating. When you choose lower-calorie density foods, you can eat large portions while consuming fewer calories overall, potentially creating a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit occurs when somebody consumes less calories than their body needs to maintain its current weight. Consistently eating with a calorie deficit will lead to weight loss.

What are some Low Calorie Density Foods?


Some foods low in calorie density are:


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries), watermelon, and oranges. To find out more about berries, read the blog 14 Brilliant Benefits of Berries.

  • Vegetables: leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini (courgette) and cucumber


Low Calorie Density Foods: Healthy Eating for Weight Loss


Low-calorie-density foods are a great choice if you're managing or looking to lose weight. These foods have fewer calories per gram, meaning you can eat a larger portion without consuming too many calories.


Foods with low-calorie density include fresh fruits, vegetables, and foods high in water content and fibre. They help you feel full and satisfied while keeping your calorie intake low.

They are sweet and delicious and provide lots of vitamins and minerals.


Leafy greens, like spinach and lettuce, are excellent low-calorie foods. They are packed with nutrients, fibre, and vitamins but are very low in calories. Other great options include raw vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers. These crunchy snacks are not only healthy but also help keep you full longer.


Fresh fruits, such as citrus fruits and grapes, are also low in calorie density. They are sweet and delicious and provide lots of vitamins and minerals. For example, a cup of grapes has fewer calories than a small block of chocolate, making it a healthier and more filling option.

Dr Michael Greger suggests including nuts and seeds in your diet despite their high-calorie density because they offer many health benefits. Avocados, nuts, and seeds are rich in healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. However, it's important to eat them in moderation as part of a balanced diet.


If you're trying to lose weight, focusing on low-calorie-density foods can help you create a calorie deficit, which is necessary for weight loss. High-volume foods like fruits and vegetables allow you to eat more and feel full without consuming too many calories. These foods are also nutrient-dense, meaning they provide essential nutrients for your body without a lot of extra calories.


For a balanced meal plan, combine low-calorie-density foods with lean proteins like chicken breast, beans, and lentils. These foods are an excellent source of protein and help build and repair your body. They also contribute to a feeling of fullness, which is crucial when trying to stick to a lower calorie intake.


In conclusion, low-calorie-density foods are a key part of a healthy diet, especially if your goal is weight loss. By choosing foods with fewer calories per gram, you can enjoy larger portions and feel satisfied while still maintaining a calorie deficit. Remember to balance your diet with nutrient-dense foods and healthy fats to ensure you get all the necessary nutrients for your body's needs.


What is the Difference Between Starchy and Non-Starchy Vegetables?


Starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates and calorie density than non-starchy vegetables. Examples of starchy vegetables are potatoes, corn, peas, and pumpkin. Non-starchy vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, and capsicum (bell peppers).


For example, 100 grams (g) of boiled potato with the skin on is about 87 kilocalories (kcal) -often incorrectly simplified to being referred to as ‘calories’. In comparison, 100 g of cooked corn contains around 86 kcal. In comparison, 100 g of cooked broccoli contains only around 54 kcal, and one cup of cooked spinach contains only around 40 kcal.


While starchy vegetables are higher in calories, they are also a good source of complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation and balanced with other nutrient-dense foods.


The way foods are prepared can affect their calorie content. For example, roasting or frying starchy vegetables with oil can significantly increase their calorie content, while steaming or boiling them can help to maintain their natural low-calorie density.

What are Some High Calorie Density Foods?


Calorie-dense foods are usually high in fat and, or sugar. They are more often than not processed foods. Some examples of calorie-dense foods high in fat include oils and butter. One tablespoon of olive oil contains around 120 kcal. As you can see, there is little point in having a salad if you put an oily dressing over it. Lowering or removing oil and butter from your food is a quick way to eat fewer calories.


Examples of foods high in sugar are lollies (candy), soft drinks (soda), fruit juice and baked goods. Baked goods like doughnuts and cakes hit the double factor for fat and sugar. Some other calorie-dense foods to ditch include processed meats, fried foods, and cheese. Many of these foods have little nutritional value and do not satisfy our physical needs.



Are There Healthy Calorie Dense Foods?


Yes (but only some experts agree on fats in the diet). Avocados, nuts and seeds are all calorie dense but have health benefits. They are considered healthy because they are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Dr Michael Greger considers nuts and seeds healthy enough to be included in the Daily Dozen app. Nuts and seeds account for one serving, and flaxseed is another separate single serving.


If you want to gain instead of lose weight, these foods could help you create a calorie surplus. While calorie-dense foods can be part of a healthy diet, they should be consumed moderately and not replace lower-calorie-dense whole plant foods.

Calorie Density Chart


Below is a calorie density graph based on how many kcal are, commonly called 'calories'. See my blog ’What is a Calorie?’ for more information.

Infographic Plantz Matter table calorie density pounds

The graph has been created based on the traffic light system to assist you in determining the caloric density of each food category. Foods that are labelled green are less calorie dense, orange is higher and red are the most calorie dense.

Infographic Plantz Matter table calorie density kilocalories

The calorie density of each food category is approximate, due to variations that may be found such as, category composition or preparation techniques.



Some clarification:


Infographic Plantz Matter table calorie density kilojoules
  • Vegetables include starchy and non-starchy vegetables

  • Grains and starches include whole grains as well as oats

  • Processed carbohydrates are things like bread, pasta and cereal

  • Junk foods are baked goods and highly processed foods such as chips


How Do I Achieve a Calorie Deficit?


The easiest way to achieve a calorie deficit is to eat fewer calories than you currently are. You do not need to drastically cut your current calories to see results. You only need to reduce your calorie intake to just below the amount that your body uses to maintain its current weight.


If you cut your calories too much, you will find yourself hungry and less able to make good food choices. To avoid this, increase your consumption of low-calorie density foods. You will feel more satisfied and be less tempted to snack or overindulge on unsatisfying high-calorie dense foods.


A popular meal method is the 50/50 plate. Half your plate is to be made up of non-starchy vegetables and the other half of starchy vegetables. This promotes a balanced and varied plant-based diet that is rich in nutrients and low in calories. On top of nutritional value, this method increases your fibre intake, promoting healthy digestion and better blood sugar control.


As the foods are in the 'go' or green zone of the calorie density graph (below), there is little to no need for calorie counting. Over time you will become more mindful about what you are consuming; your body will relearn when it is full and know when to stop eating. If you are a calorie counter, this method can give you more food freedom.

Summary


Awareness of the calorie density of your food is an essential part of weight management. Once you understand it, you can use it to help you meet your weight goals. Calorie density should not be the only factor to consider when making dietary choices. Look for foods that meet your management as well as nutritional needs.


If you are trying to reduce weight, the only way to do this is by creating a calorie deficit. The healthiest and most enjoyable way to do this is to increase low-calorie density foods in your diet. Instead of thinking about the things you can't have, focus on all the fantastic foods you can have that are good for your body and your waistline. It is a better mindset to focus on including healthy things in your meals rather than focusing on the things you 'shouldn't' be eating.


Thank you for reading. If you know anyone who would benefit from this post, please share.



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