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Energy density and weight loss: Feel full on fewer calories
Choosing foods that are less concentrated with calories — meaning you get a larger portion size with a fewer number of calories — can help you lose weight and control your hunger.By Mayo Clinic staff
Feel full on fewer calories? It might sound like another gimmick for weight loss, but it's not. Rather, it's putting the concept of energy density into practice to help with your weight loss. In fact, well planned weight-loss diets, such as The Mayo Clinic Diet, use the concept of energy density to help you lose weight and keep it off long term.
Weight loss with more food, fewer calories
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Simply put, energy density is the number of calories (energy) in a specific amount of food. High energy density means that there are a lot of calories in a little food. Low energy density means there are few calories in a lot of food.
When you're striving for weight loss, the goal is to eat low-energy-dense foods. That is, you want to eat a greater volume of food that's lower in calories. This helps you feel fuller on fewer calories. Here's a quick example with raisins and grapes. Raisins have a high energy density — 1 cup of raisins has about 434 calories. Grapes have a low energy density — 1 cup of grapes has about 104 calories.
The keys to energy density and weight loss
Three main factors play a role in what makes food high or low in energy density:
- Water. Many fruits and vegetables are high in water content, which provides volume and weight but not calories. That's why they're low-energy-dense foods. Grapefruit, for example, is about 90 percent water. Half a grapefruit has just 39 calories. Raw, fresh carrots are about 88 percent water. Half a cup has only about 25 calories.
- Fiber. High-fiber foods not only provide volume, but also take longer to digest, making you feel full longer on fewer calories. Classic examples are vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
- Fat. Fat is high in energy density. One teaspoon of butter, for example, contains almost the same number of calories as 2 cups of low-energy-dense raw broccoli. Most fruits and vegetables don't contain a lot of fat. Foods that contain fat naturally, such as dairy products and various meats, or foods with added fats are higher in calories than their leaner or lower fat counterparts.
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- Pennington J, et al. Practice paper of the American Dietetic Association: Nutrient density — Meeting nutrient goals within calorie needs. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2007;107:860.
- Savage JS, et al. Dietary energy density predicts women's weight change over 6 y. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008;88:677.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.health.gov/DietaryGuidelines/dga2005/document/default.htm. Accessed Dec. 20, 2010..
- Hensrud DD, et al. The Mayo Clinic Diet. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books; 2010.
- Zeratsky KA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 5, 2011.
- Nelson JK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 5, 2011.
- Hensrud DD (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 8, 2011.
- Rolls BJ. The relationship between dietary energy density and energy intake. Physiology & Behavior. 2009;97:609.