When people talk about calorie density, they’re referring to the number of calories per pound of food.
Veggies, for example, are a low-density food—you get anywhere from 60 to 150 calories per pound. Fruits take it up a notch, approaching 400+ calories per pound. When you get to high sugar high fat foods like a cheesecake, an example of highest-density foods, you’re consuming up to 2,000-4000—yes, that reads thousand!—calories per pound.
The concept of calorie density as a diet tool is fairly simple: eat a lot of low-density foods, and you’ll fill up your stomach without overloading on calories. It’s intended as a weight loss tool, and a simple guide to eating the right foods for losing weight without having to count calories.
There have been a number of scientific studies that asked and answered the question we posed above.
In 1998, for example, one study  took 18 normal-weight women and fed them low, medium, and high-density meals over the course of two days. The study focused on the quantity of food consumed by weight, multiplying it by the energy density of the food to determine total calorie intake.
Interestingly enough, the study found that the women tended to eat the same weight in food, regardless of its energy density. There was no difference in hunger or fullness after the meals, so the only thing that changed was the calorie intake. The women who ate high-density foods ended up consuming up to 25% more calories than those who ate low-density foods. Same quantities of food consumed, just far more calories per bite!
In a 2004 study , women were given breakfast, lunch, and dinner options—two versions of varying energy density, in three portion sizes each. The macronutrient content in both versions was the same, as was the palatability. All that changed was the calorie density.
When the women were served the largest portion of high-density food, they ended up eating more than TWICE as many calories as when they were served the smallest portion of the low-density food.
But the study had one more important find: the women who ate the smallest portion of low-density food didn’t compensate at the next meal by eating more. There was no change in their hunger and fullness rating, regardless of which meal they ate.
It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? As these two studies proved:
Eating more low-density foods fills you up better and keeps you from feeling hungry between meals.
Eating more low-density foods encourages weight loss and makes it easier to keep up with your diet.
Eating more low-density foods won’t leave you feeling hungry after your meals, but you’ll be just as satiated as if you’d eaten a large helping of high-density food.
The science makes it easy to see that adding more low-density foods to your diet is the way to go!
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The beauty of the calorie density approach to eating is that you don’t have to worry about counting calories or setting specific eating goals. Even without specific goals, the positive changes in the diet introduced below should lead to visible weight loss.
If you want to follow this eating plan, you should:
Load up on low-density foods. This always includes fruits and vegetables, as well as legumes (like beans and lentils).
Include some medium-density foods. Potatoes, rice, barley, corn, yams all count as medium-density foods that you SHOULD eat. Cut out the medium-density breads, dried fruits, bagels, and low-fat muffins that contain more sugar than is good for you.
Be selective on high-density foods. Stick with nuts, seeds, proteins, and foods that contain healthy fats (like coconut and olive oil). Avoid anything with a high concentration of sugar, any baked flour-based foods, and processed oils.
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