Topic 1 Calorie density

QUESTION: Are high-dense energy foods usually rich in fiber and water?

  • Evidence suggests that eating a lower energy-dense diet could be a key strategy to weight control and to consume fewer calories without feeling hungry. Satiety and hunger control are important for long-term compliance with an eating plan.
  • Calorie density is the amount of calories or energy in particular weight of food, generally presented as kcal / g or kcal /100 g. Content of water and fiber lower the energy density of foods, while fat is the most energy dense component of foods, providing more than twice calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein.
  • Thus, in general, low energy dense foods tend to have either a higher content of water, fiber or little fat.
  • Food rich in water and fiber are also generally high nutrient dense foods, whereas ultra-processed foods tend to be energy-dense, and nutrient-poor.

Foods can be classified depending on its energy density as follows:

Energy Density of foods Examples
Very Low
Less than 0.6 kcal/g
  • Most types of fruit and vegetables
  • Most types of low fat soup
  • Bran flakes
  • Low fat and fat free- milk products
  • Potatoes
  • Boiled brown rice  
0.6 kcal/g to 1.5 kcal/g
1.5 kcal/g to 4 kcal/g
  • Low fat cheese
  • Lean meat, poultry and fish
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
More than 4 kcal/g
  • Biscuits and confectionery
  • Fried crisps
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cheese
  • Butter, oil and mayonnaise.

Source: Adapted from British Nutrition Foundation

How to reduce energy density of dishes?

When behavior change only targets reducing high energy-dense foods, parental attitude focuses on what the child cannot eat, while when focusing on nutrient-dense foods, emphasis is on what they should eat. So, it is important to reduce energy density, avoiding empty calories and increasing nutrient density to ensure adequate children growth.

  • Start meal with an appetizer low in energy density, such as a broth-based soup or a green salad
  • Add variety to grilled or steamed vegetables with spices and low-fat sauces. You can also panfry them in a non-stick pan with a small amount of oil.
  • Try frozen or canned vegetables for a quick side dish—just microwave and serve. Look for canned vegetables without added salt, butter, or cream sauces.
  • When making lasagna, use part-skim ricotta cheese instead of whole-milk ricotta cheese. Substitute shredded vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini, and spinach for some of the ground meat in lasagna
  • When making pizza, choose vegetables as toppings and just a light sprinkling of cheese instead of fatty meats.
  • Modified versions of traditional or preferred recipes: baking or grilling, electing lean meats, using low-fat cheese, adding extra vegetables.
  • Reduce the availability at home of ultra-processed high energy dense foods and snacks: if you don’t buy It, you won’t eat It
  • Try snacks that are 100 calories or less: 1 cup carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers with 2 tablespoons hummus, a medium apple or banana. 1 cup blueberries or grapes, one-fourth cup of tuna wrapped in a lettuce leaf, a few homemade oven-baked kale chips, etc.
  • Rethink your drink: choose beverages that are naturally calorie-free
  • Keep always a jug or bottles of cold water in the fridge and serve water with meals.
  • Carry a water bottle and refill it throughout the day.
  • Make water more exciting by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, watermelon or fresh, frozen cut-up fruit, a splash of 100% juice, etc.