If you've ever felt like the hardest part of a diet is the feeling of "constant" hunger, you aren't alone. But you probably also aren't optimizing a very important factor: calorie density.
Oftentimes we think to ourselves, "If I eat less, I should lose weight." And sure, that works most of the time, but it also keeps you feeling very hungry and often times fatigued.
The goal of any diet shouldn't only be to look amazing - but to feel amazing as well. What good does it do you to fit into your old jeans if you feel deprived of energy and are constantly hungry? Luckily, there is a way to have your (protein) cake and eat it too.
What is calorie density?
Calorie density is a simple measure of the average amount of calories per unit of weight of that food. In the easiest way to explain it, an average serving of peanut butter (2 tablespoons) = 190 calories, while an entire cup of portobello mushrooms = 18 calories.
How can this help my diet?
In any diet, the most important factor is calories in versus calories out. If you eat as much healthy food as you want but still eat 400 calories more than you're burning, you'll likely see weight gain.
That's because while it's important to be feeding your body foods high in nutritional value, calorie intake versus calorie outtake will still determine your overall weight.
The healthier the foods, typically the lower the calorie density. This is why you so often hear the phrase "If you eat healthy foods, you will lose weight." That's true in part. It is much harder to go over your daily recommended intake of calories with lean protein, veggies and fruits.
However, there are still foods generally classified as "healthy" that are very easy to go over in calories with. Typically, it's healthy fats like avocado, peanut butter, nuts, and olive oil. While healthy sources of fat are absolutely essential to any balanced diet, they are extremely dense in calories.
|Less Calorie Dense Foods||Calorie Packed Foods|
Eat More Food for Fewer Calories
To further demonstrate how influential calorie density is to any diet, here's a layout of a 1600 calorie diet for two different types of diets. While they both have about the same amount of calories in total, there is a large difference between the amount of food being consumed based on the calorie density of the food.
Diet high in calorie dense foods
- Breakfast: 2 eggs, 1 serving of avocado. Calories: 390
- Lunch: Sandwich with 2 slices of bread, turkey, cheddar cheese, mayo & mustard. Calories: 509
- Snack: apple & 1 serving of peanut butter. Calories: 250
- Dinner: 2 Slices of cheese pizza. Calories: 500
- Total: 1649 calories
Diet low in calorie dense foods
- Breakfast: 4oz of Oatmeal, 1 banana, 3 egg whites. Calories: 244
- Snack 1: Hard boiled egg & 1 serving of veggies. Calories: 100
- Lunch: 4oz Salmon, 4oz sweet potato, 1 cup of veggies, 1/2 serving of avocado. Calories: 400
- Snack 2: Whey Protein Shake. Calories: 190
- Dinner: 4oz Chicken, 4oz brown rice, 1 serving of fruit, 1 cup of veggies: 450 calories
- Dessert: Protein Bar. Calories: 230
- Total- 1614 calories
Focus on Volume to Stay Full
If you want to get the most out of your diet and create a sustainable lifestyle, your best bet is to focus on fueling your body with the right foods. While it can be tempting to eat something high in calories, remember that those foods aren't meant for you to get full from.
The most important takeaway here is to eat calorie-dense foods in moderation. They should not be scaled to the size of a regular meal. They should be utilized in healthy proportions.
The easiest way to stay in the right calorie range for your goals is to fill up on lean meats, veggies, and fruits. These things will keep you full, energized, and will be harder to overeat.
On the other hand, you should probably pay particular attention to your portions with the calorie dense foods.
If you eat 6 oz of vegetables versus the 4 oz you tracked calories for, you will probably only consume about 10-20 extra calories. However, if you accidentally eat 3 tablespoons of peanut butter versus the 1.5 tablespoons you tracked calories for, you will eat an additional 142 calories.
In order to stay on track in any diet, it's important to be aware of calorie density. Knowing how to get the most food out of your diet will help you achieve longer-lasting results.
Learn more about controlling your calories: