search iconmenu Icon

Calorie Density

Updated on April 7, 2022
Written by
Kelly Jamrozy
3 sources cited
KnowYourDNA is reader-supported. This means we may receive a commission when you buy something from one of the links on this page.

Many people count calories to lose weight. Calorie density provides a simpler and more effective approach for healthy weight loss.

Calorie counting is helpful for losing weight, but it tends to leave you feeling unsatisfied. It’s also rarely a long-term solution for losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. 

While it can help you reduce your calorie intake, it doesn’t consider your nutrition and overall health.

Instead of counting calories or trying various diet tricks, you can choose foods based on their calorie density. 

What is Calorie Density?

Calorie density is a measure of how many calories are in a certain amount of a food.

As an example, doughnuts are a very calorie-dense food. Doughnuts contain more than 2000 calories per pound. On the other hand, a pound of broccoli contains about 150 calories. 

Calorie density is important when it comes to weight loss because people tend to feel most satisfied eating the same “amount” or volume of food, regardless of calories.

Two cups of food fill you up, whether it contains 200 or 1200 calories. 

The Calorie Density Chart

The calorie density chart is a way to estimate the caloric density of different foods. It helps you make healthier food choices when trying to lose weight. 

Below are the different categories of foods and their approximate caloric density:

  • 60 to 195 calories/lb Vegetables
  • 140 to 420 calories/lb — Fruits
  • 320 to 630 calories/lb — Starches like potatoes, rice, pasta, and oatmeal
  • 310 to 780 calories/lb — Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils
  • 920 to 1360 calories/lb — Bread, bagels, muffins, and dried fruits
  • 1200 to 1800 calories/lb — Sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, agave, and molasses
  • 1480 to 1760 calories/lb — Dry cereal, chips, crackers, pretzels, and popcorn
  • 2400 to 3200 calories/lb — Nuts and seeds
  • 4000 calories/lb — Oils

Foods that contain fewer calories per weight have lower calorie density. Meanwhile, those with more calories per weight have higher calorie density.

What Are Low Calorie Dense Foods?

Low calorie-dense foods have fewer calories per serving. Examples of low calorie-dense foods include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Lean proteins like chicken and fish
  • Whole grains (e.g., brown rice)
  • Low-fat and non-fat dairy products
  • Herbs and spices

Many low calorie-dense foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, and grains) contain plenty of water and fiber. They also have high nutrient density, and are referred to as nutrient-dense foods

You can eat more of these foods and get the nutrients you need, and consume fewer total calories.

What Are High Calorie Dense Foods?

High calorie-dense foods contain more calories per serving. Examples of high-calorie-dense foods include:

  • Nuts
  • Oils
  • Sugar
  • Bread, bagels, and muffins
  • Red meats like beef and pork
  • Avocadoes
  • Nuts and seeds

Some high calorie-dense foods are rich in fats and proteins. Examples include red meats and avocadoes. 

Foods with proteins and fats can reduce your appetite and keep you full longer. This is why the Noom diet plan recommends eating them in moderate amounts.

It’s important to note that while they contain less nutrients, most calorie-dense foods are still fairly nutritious. However, some of these foods contain too many calories but have little nutrition (empty calories). So you need to be careful with choosing foods.

For instance, you should choose whole-grain breads over processed breads. You should also limit your intake of fruit smoothies because they are liquid calories.

Overall, you want to consume less high calorie-dense foods to lose weight or achieve weight control. 

How Calorie Dense Foods Help You Lose Weight

The calorie density approach is easy to follow. You just have to eat more of low calorie-dense foods and less high-calorie dense foods to lose weight.

A low calorie-dense diet leaves you feeling satisfied and reduces your calorie consumption. Because they tend to be nutrient-rich, they can help you maintain long-term health.

Foods with very high calorie densities such as nuts, seeds, oils, and processed foods should be avoided. They are loaded with calories but have little nutritional value.

Lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and poultry still have high calorie densities. But since they are rich in proteins and healthy fats, you can eat them moderately.

Like most low calorie-dense foods, they can help you lose weight by keeping you full and staving off hunger.

Consequently, a diet rich in calorie-dense foods can lead to weight gain. The lack of fiber and water in your diet can leave you feeling hungry all of the time. 

You will end up eating more calories per meal, which increases your total caloric intake.

How To Use Calorie Density for Weight Loss

Low calorie-dense foods tend to contain a lot of fiber and water. They fill you up faster than high calorie-dense foods, so you only need to eat a little to feel full. 

This means you can use calorie density to your advantage. Below are other tips that can help you with weight loss:

1. Eat Only When You’re Hungry 

People eat for a lot of different reasons, many of which have nothing to do with physical hunger. If you want to lose weight, learn what hunger feels like and only eat when you have that feeling.

2. Avoid Liquid Calories 

Water and tea are your best bet when trying to lose weight. You’ll want to avoid high-calorie beverages because they provide little to no nutrition and rarely leave you feeling full.

Instead of drinking a strawberry smoothie, eat a bowl of fresh fruits. Stay away from carbonated beverages, energy drinks, and sweetened tea and coffee.

3. Limit Oils and Butters in Your Meals 

Oils and other fats offer health benefits, but they are high in calories.

To give you some perspective, a teaspoon of olive oil can have as much as 40 calories. Two tablespoons of peanut butter can add 188 calories to your sandwich.

You can use food tracking apps to see how many calories there are per serving of food.

4. Treat High Calorie-Dense Foods Like Side Dishes or Condiments 

When you choose to eat high calorie-dense foods, make sure they fill no more than a quarter of your plate. You can eat proteins and healthy fats moderately since they can help with weight loss. 

However, you should eat high calorie foods with little nutritional value in very limited qualities. Keep in mind that they offer no benefits in terms of weight and your health.

5. Avoid Processed Bread Products 

These foods offer little to no health benefits and are packed with calories. Healthy fiber is removed from processed bread and baked goods, so they’ll only fill you up for a short time.

Instead, eat whole breads like rye bread and flax bread.

6. Eat More High-Volume Foods 

High-volume foods can satiate you for longer periods. Examples of high-volume foods are:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Stemmed and other vegetables
  • Fruits, especially berries

Whole grains, lean meats, and root vegetables are also high-volume foods although they contain more calories.

Choose the right foods by looking at their water and fiber content. They give you the feeling of fullness and reduce your total caloric intake.

7. Try the Noom Weight Loss Plan

Noom promotes a low calorie-dense diet. It uses psychology to change the way you view food, nutrition, and dieting.

The weight loss app can help you achieve your weight goals and establish healthy habits for good health. Here's our review of Noom.

Calorie Density 2

Noom Weight Loss

What makes the Noom app truly special is that it doesn’t stop once you lost weight. By offering health coaching, peer support, and education, it establishes healthy habits which can last a lifetime.

Resources

SHOW
HIDE
Minus IconPlus Icon
  1. Eat More, Weigh Less?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Weight loss: Feel full on fewer calories.” Mayo Clinic.
  3. High-Calorie Foods and Snack Ideas to Gain Weight.” Cleveland Clinic
Kelly Jamrozy
Kelly Jamrozy
Content Contributor
Kelly has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including legal, medical, marketing, and travel. Her goal is to share important information that people can use to make decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. From choosing the best treatment programs to improving dental and vision health to finding the best method for helping anyone who is struggling with health issues, she hopes to share what she learns through informative content.
back to top