menu iconknow your dna logosearch icon
What Is Calorie Density?
Updated on January 4, 2023
Back to top
back to top icon
Diet / Weight Loss
What Is Calorie Density?
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 to 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 or maintaining a healthy weight. 

While it can help reduce 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 and still feel satisfied when you eat. 

What Is Calorie Density? 2

What is Calorie Density?

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

For 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 only about 150 calories. 

Calorie density is important in 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. 

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, get the nutrients you need, and consume fewer 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 fewer nutrients, most calorie-dense foods are still fairly nutritious. However, some foods contain too many calories but lack nutrition (empty calories). So you need to be careful with choosing foods.

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

You want to consume fewer high-calorie-dense foods to lose weight or control weight. 

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.

How Calorie Dense Foods Help You Lose Weight

The calorie density approach is easy to follow. You must eat more 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 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 always leave you feeling hungry. 

You will end up eating more calories per meal, increasing 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 many 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. Avoid carbonated beverages, energy drinks, or 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 many as 40 calories. Two tablespoons of peanut butter can add 188 calories to your sandwich.

You can use food tracking apps to estimate the number of calories per serving you're eating.

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

When you eat high-calorie-dense foods, ensure they fill no more than a quarter of your plate. You can eat moderate proteins and healthy fats since they 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 when it comes to your weight and 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 bread 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

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

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.

Updated on January 4, 2023
Minus IconPlus Icon
3 sources cited
Updated on January 4, 2023
  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
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
Back to top icon