Portion Control

Calorie Density

Calorie Density

“What is calorie density?” you may ask.

Calorie density is a measure of how many calories are in a given weight of food.  My preferred ratio is calories per pound. 

Calorie Density is a concept found at the heart of the Volumetrics diet plan that was developed after many years of research in 2000 by Barbara Rolls, PhD. and Helen A. Guthrie, Chair in Nutrition at Penn State.

The Volumetrics diet plan was ranked number 1 among weight-loss diets for 2022 by U.S. News & World Report.

The concept of calorie density consists of a number of principles that I previously used very successfully to lose and maintain my weight. Recently, I have begun folding the principles back into as many meals as possible, and with good results! I’m losing bodyfat and feeling great!

When you employ calorie density, you consume low calorie density foods to bring about and maintain weight loss. A key component of this involves the stretch receptors in the stomach, and how they are activated by the volume of food that you consume.

Low calorie dense foods have more volume and typically activate your stomach’s stretch receptors fairly quickly. On the flip-side, if you eat high calorie dense foods, they do not fill your stomach as quickly and therefore don’t activate the stretch receptors as quickly. By the time you do activate your stomach’s stretch receptors with higher density foods, chances are you have eaten a counterproductive amount of calories.

I am an emotional eater. When I go through periods that are stressful, I crave larger portions at meal time.  Following the principles of calorie density allows me to find a sweet spot of a larger amount of food without wrecking my weight management efforts.  

I don’t limit my use of calorie density to just high-stress periods.  I try to apply the principles to every meal I consume. 

I enjoy calorie density because when I apply the principles, I am able to eat more food for fewer calories. The principles of calorie density are easy to understand and follow. A BIG bonus is an increase in the nutritional quality of my meals. 

The Fundamentals Of Calorie Density Are Pretty Straightforward:

  • A food high in calorie density has a large number of calories per pound, whereas a food low in calorie density has much fewer calories per pound. 
  • Vegetables are the lowest in calorie density and fats and oils are the highest. (see chart below).
  • When you add vegetables to your plate you will lower the overall calorie density of your meal.  This is often referred to as “calorie dilution”. 
  • Foods that are lower in calorie density such as fruits, vegetables (including some starchy vegetables), unprocessed whole grains, and legumes are also the foods highest in nutrient density and (happily for me) tend to be more filling. 
  • If you add fat and oil you run the risk of exponentially raising the overall calorie density of your meal.

What Are Some Productive Calorie-Per-Pound Ranges?

  • Generally, foods that are 300 calories per pound or less will not cause weight gain. You can eat these freely. You would fill up your stomach before you were able to take in a counterproductive amount of calories.  
  • Foods that are between 300 and 800 calories per pound will allow most people lose or maintain weight, based on their activity levels. Use caution if skewing towards the higher side of this range.  
  • Regular consumption of foods with a calorie density of 800 or more  cause weight gain. 
  • I have found that following the recommendation of the American Cancer Institute and the World Cancer Research Fund and eating foods that are around 500-600 calories per pound serves me well and is a preference of many others who follow the principles.

How To Incorporate The Principles Of Calorie Density Into Your Meals

  • Dilute the calorie density of your meals by filling 1/2 your plate with unprocessed whole grains, starchy vegetables (brown rice, potatoes, etc.), and/or legumes and the other half with vegetables and/or fruit.  
  • If you feel the need to add something of a higher calorie density to your plate, see the last bullet below 
  • Eat until you are comfortably full.  Don’t starve and don’t stuff yourself. 
  • If you’re feeling really hungry, start your meal with a simple salad/soup and/or fruit. 
  • Always eat or chew your calories, don’t drink or liquefy them. Liquids offer little if any sustainable hunger satisfaction so they do not fill you up as much as solid foods of equal calories.  When you load the blender with fruits, nuts, etc., you wind up taking in far more calories than you would have if you ate those same ingredients without all of the processing. If you want to test this theory, load your blender with everything you would use to make a smoothie.  BUT, instead of pressing the button to create your smoothie, dump all of the ingredients in a bowl and try to eat them.  You will find that you will probably fill up before consuming all of the food. 
  • Limit or avoid foods with higher calorie density, such as  dried fruit, high fat plant foods (avocado, nuts), processed whole grains, oils, nut butters, baked goods, etc. (See chart below). 
  • If you use foods with higher calorie density, incorporate them in smaller amounts as a condiment instead of a mainstay ingredient. For example, add a small amount (a few slices of) avocado to a large salad, or add less than a handful of walnuts or raisins to a bowl of oatmeal and fruit.

I’ve included a couple of graphics below from the Forks Over Knives website to illustrate the basics of calorie density.

If you decide to give it a try, I hope you enjoy it and if you have any questions, feel free to post a comment!

Have fun!

Published by Tony Buffkin

One comment on “Calorie Density”

  1. Rich says:

    You explain Calorie Density so well as to make it seem so obvious. People who switch to a plant based diet often say they are not getting enough energy from their meals because they are missing what you have just so eloquently explained. They are just not eating enough of the good stuff. ❤️

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