Calorie Density 101

Calorie density was never something taught during any science classes I took growing up. I mean, shit, nutrition classes aren’t really a thing for more kids I feel like. Or most adults for that matter! So yeah. Me and calorie density? We had our first meeting in 2019.

I’m a really big believer that, when it comes to “diet,” there’s room for everything in moderation. But as someone who absolutely loves to eat (oral fixation, anyone?), learning how to identify calorie dense foods and choosing foods to stock my fridge with that are low in calorie density (and/or high in nutrient density!) has really been a game changer.

Whatever your wellness goal – I just wanted to do a little calorie density 101 post to give you a light intro into what calorie density is and how you can eat more volume of food, potentially while eating fewer calories.

Eat MORE, but weigh LESS by understanding how calorie density works and how to use it to your advantage! If you love to snack, this one's for you.

As always, a little disclaimer

Actually, a few disclaimers…

  • I am not a medical professional. Before you change ANY part of your wellness routine, I highly recommend you check in with your wellness professionals (whether that’s a doctor, health coach, nutritionist, etc).
  • I don’t personally believe that “a calorie is a calorie.” I think it’s likely “better” for your body to eat 500 calories of fruit than 500 calories of a fast food meal. The nutrients you’d find in the 500 calories of fruit will nourish and sustain you much more so than the 500 calories of fast food.
  • I also don’t believe in living or dying by calorie counts. I don’t personally count my calories. I have a tendency towards obsessive or disordered thinking if I count my calories – it just doesn’t work for me personally. We’re all different! Do what works for you. What works for me is having a high level knowledge of how much is healthy for me to eat of various food groups rather than marching towards specific calorie counts.

Calorie density explained

Calorie density has to do with – you guessed it – the density of calories within food! Foods with high caloric density mean that for a small bit of that food, you’re getting a lot of calories vs foods with low caloric density mean you could eat much more in volume of that food for fewer calories.

Grapes and raisins make for an awesome lesson in caloric density. Grapes have low caloric density – they’re mostly water! Raisins on the other hand have higher caloric density than their juicy counterparts. If you had a two piles, one with 100 calories of grapes and the other with 100 calories of raisins, the pile of grapes would 1) be much larger and 2) keep you full longer.

Foods that are high in calorie density are not necessarily “bad” for you. Almonds, for example, have high calorie density, but are a great plant based source of protein.

What to know about eating a calorically balanced diet

Here’s what I love about this calorie density magic…

Sometimes I just want to eat. A LOT. Personally, for me, it’s more strategic for my overall wellness and weight management to be aware of energy density and calorie density when selecting my meals.

It’s been crazy helpful for me to have the knowledge of calorie density when choosing my snacks and meals because I love the look of a full plate and foods that have low calorie density keep me feeling full longer.

Also, most foods that are low in caloric density are high in nutrient density (think fruits and veggies!). Sort of a win-win on that bit.

I still personally absolutely incorporate high calorie dense foods into my diet – who doesn’t love chocolate? Everything in moderation, my friends.

Some of my favorite foods that have low caloric density and/or high nutrient density

Berries

If you follow me on Instagram Stories, you know I love a good berry bowl. Berries are packed with healthy nutrients and have low calorie density, meaning they’re a fairly filling snack.

Please don’t @ me about the sugar. The sugar in berries is natural – and “a calorie is not a calorie” so I’d personally rather eat a bowl of berries than a bowl of sugary cereal. Just my two cents.

Roasted veggies

I am obsessed with roasted vegetables. I love roasting up big sheet pans of squash, sweet potato, chickpeas, kale, or really any veggies to get them nice and savory. Seasoning doesn’t have to be fancy! I love a good salt, pepper, and garlic powder kind of a situation on my roasted veggies.​​​​​​​

I do sometimes drizzle some avocado oil or olive oil on my vegetables, but I like to note that while those oils are healthy fats, they’re definitely high calorie foods. Again – everything in moderation!

Whole grains

My favorite way to eat my roasted veggies is on top of some brown rice or quinoa. Grains, particularly in American “diets” get a shitty reputation.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​

There is a massive difference between eating processed “white” carbs and healthy whole grains.

Here in the U.S. we really focus on weight, body fat, and – if we’re honest – how we look. I don’t really know too many people who choose the foods they eat because they’re focused on longevity. Everyone seems to be hyper focused on weight loss and losing weight. We all have different wellness goals! But I do wish we as a culture paid more attention to total wellness and longevity, rather than a number on the scale.

We don’t really talk about longevity when it comes to “diet”! And while I’ll save the bulk of that topic for another blog post – and we also all have different wellness goals – for me personally I’m all about longevity.

Did you know that, when it comes to the populations on this planet who live the longest (I’m talking blue zones with the highest concentration of centinarians), 65% of their diet consists of whole grains?

My point? The demonization of “carbs” in diet culture seems, to me, pretty misguided. Again, we all have our own wellness goals and beliefs. But healthy, whole, high quality grains are scientifically proven to increase longevity by reducing the risk for chronic metabolic diseases.

Quality of food groups is major when it comes to nutrient density! But not all high quality foods are affordable and accessible for everyone. High quality whole grains luckily aren’t as cost prohibitive or as limiting from an accessibility standpoint as say, high quality protein (such as grass-fed beef). Meaning whole grains are an awesome, nutrient dense, and somewhat mid-range calorically dense food to add to your balanced diet.

Bring on the homemade sourdough (moderated to the appropriate amount, of course).

Let’s chat all things caloric (and nutrient!) density! Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

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Eat MORE, but weigh LESS by understanding how calorie density works and how to use it to your advantage! If you love to snack, this one's for you.
Eat MORE, but weigh LESS by understanding how calorie density works and how to use it to your advantage! If you love to snack, this one's for you.

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