Counting calories is a time-consuming and difficult task. It’s no surprise then that many people give up on their weight loss journey before they even get started. Nobody wants to spend their life obsessing over numbers, but the truth is, if you want to lose weight you need to be aware of how many calories you’re taking in. The good news is, that there’s a much easier way to count calories that doesn’t involve constantly measuring and logging everything you eat. It’s called the calorie density chart and it can help you lose weight without all the fuss (1).
What Is The Calorie Density Chart?
Calorie density is the amount of calories per given volume of food.
The calorie density chart is a tool that can help you quickly and easily see which foods are high in calories, and which are low in calories. This way, you can make better choices about what to eat, and how much of it to eat.
Think of it this way: if your daily calorie goal is 1800 calories and you eat an Egg McMuffin for lunch and a couple of slices of pizza for dinner, you’re yet to hit your calorie goal. But you’ve consumed way more saturated fat and sodium than you should have for the day.
On the other hand, if you eat a big salad for lunch and roasted chicken and vegetables for dinner, you’re not only meeting your calorie goal, but you’re getting plenty of nutrients too.
The calorie density chart is based on the premise that all calories are not created equal. Rather than focus on the number of calories you’re eating, it’s more important to focus on the quality of those calories.
How Do You Calculate Caloric Density?
Without getting too technical, caloric density is calculated by dividing the number of calories in a food by its weight in grams.
Usually, low-calorie-density foods have the following qualities:
- They’re mostly made up of water
- They’re high in fiber
- They’re low in fat
- They’re rich in nutrients
- They fill you up without providing a lot of calories
On the other hand, high-calorie-density foods typically have the following qualities:
- They’re low in water/dry (think bagels, crackers, and pretzels)
- They’re low in fiber
- They’re high in fat
- They’re low in nutrients
- They trigger overeating because they’re not very filling
Now that you know what the calorie density chart is and how to calculate it, let’s take a look at how you can use it to lose weight.
What Food Has The Highest Calorie Density?
Below is a list of common foods, ranked from lowest to highest calorie density.
- Vegetables: 60 – 195 calories/pound
- Fruit: 140 – 420 calories/pound
- Potatoes, pasta, rice, barley, yams, corn, hot cereals: 320 – 630 calories/pound
- Beans, peas, lentils (cooked): 310 – 780 calories/pound
- Lean meat, poultry, and fish: 600-1200 calories/pound
- Breads, bagels, fat-free muffins, dried fruit: 920 – 1,360 calories/pound
- Sugars (i.e. sugar, honey, molasses, agave, corn syrup, maple syrup): 1,200 – 1,800 calories/pound
- Dry cereals, baked chips, fat-free crackers, pretzels, popcorn: 1,480 – 1,760 calories/pound
- Nuts/seeds: 2,400 – 3,200 calories/pound
- Oils: 4,000 calories/pound
To use the chart, follow these three rules:
Rule 1: Eat More Foods From The First Two Rows
The first two rows (foods with the lowest calorie densities) are vegetables and fruits. They are nutrient-rich and filling, but low in calories. This means you can eat a lot of them without going over your daily calorie limit (3).
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Rule 2: 90 Percent Of Your Diet Should Have Foods In The First Five Rows
Most of the foods you eat should come from the first five rows of the chart. This will help you fill up on low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, and leave less room for high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods. For your grains and grain products, try to choose whole grain versions most of the time.
Rule 3: Minimize Consumption Of Foods In The Last Four Rows
With the exception of nuts and seeds, the foods in the last four rows are high in calories and low in nutrients. They should make up no more than 10 percent of your diet.
Occasionally indulging in food from the last three rows is okay, but try to make sure it’s balanced out with plenty of foods from the first five rows (2).
Using The Calorie Density Chart To Lose Weight
The calorie density chart can be a helpful tool for weight loss. Here’s how to use it:
1. Find Your Daily Calorie Goal
Weight loss comes down to calories in vs. calories out. To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by eating fewer calories than you burn (4).
To find your daily calorie goal, use an online calculator or speak to a Registered Dietitian (RD). A deficit of 500 calories per day is a good place to start.
2. Use The Calorie Chart To Apply Volume Eating
Volume eating refers to the concept of eating more food, but fewer calories. This is achieved by filling up on low-calorie foods that are high in water and fiber, like vegetables and fruits.
When you eat foods from the first two rows of the chart, you can eat a lot more volume-wise while still staying within your calorie budget. This will help you feel full and satisfied, without overeating (2).
3. Avoid The Temptation Of High-Calorie Foods
The foods in the last four rows of the chart are high in calories and low in nutrients. They should be eaten sparingly, if at all (6). The exception is nuts and seeds, which are high in calories but also high in nutrients. These can be eaten every day, just be sure to mind your portion size.
If you find yourself craving high-calorie foods, try to satisfy your craving with a lower-calorie alternative. For example, if you’re craving chips, have a small handful of baked chips instead. Or if you’re craving cake, have a cupcake with less frosting.
4. Consider Hidden Calories
When tracking your intake, don’t forget to account for hidden calories. These are calories that you may not think about or realize, like those found in added oils and salad dressings.
Hidden calories can also come from the cooking method you choose. For example, grilling is a healthier option than frying.
This is not to say that you’ll only eat bland, dry food. There are plenty of ways to make healthy meals that are also flavorful and satisfying.
5. Meal Plan
When you have a plan, it’s easier to stick to your goals. Meal planning can help you save time and money, while also ensuring that you’re eating nutrient-dense foods.
To plan a meal plan, start by picking a few recipes that you want to make for the week. Then, create a grocery list of all the ingredients you’ll need.
Once you have your groceries, take some time to prepare your meals. This can involve washing and chopping vegetables, cooking grains, or pre-assembling meals.
By taking these steps, you’ll make it easier to eat healthy and stick to your weight loss goals.
6. Watch Out For Liquid Calories
Beverages can be a major source of hidden calories. Even healthy choices like fruit juice and smoothies can be high in sugar and calories (5).
To stay on track, limit your intake of calorie-containing beverages. And make sure that most of your fluids come from water.
7. Make Time For Exercise
In addition to following a healthy diet, you also need to get regular exercise to lose weight. Exercise helps you burn more calories and builds muscle, which can help you burn even more calories at rest.
To make exercise a part of your routine, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week. If you’re just starting out, you can break this up into 10-minute increments.
8. Seek Support
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when making changes to your diet and lifestyle. To increase your chances of success, seek out support from family and friends, or join a weight loss group.
Making lifestyle changes can be difficult, but having a support system can make it easier.
9. Be Patient
Weight loss takes time, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. Remember that even a small amount of weight loss can lead to big health benefits.
The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to make sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle. These tips can help you make lasting changes that will help you reach your goals.
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The Benefits Of Using The Calorie Density Chart
There are many reasons why the calorie density chart can be helpful in your weight loss journey. Here are just a few:
Lose Weight Without Feeling Deprived
The calorie density chart can help you lose weight without feeling deprived. If you’re used to eating large meals, it can be hard to cut back on portion sizes. But when you focus on eating low-calorie-density foods, you can still eat a lot of food (in terms of volume) without going over your calorie goal. This way, you won’t feel deprived or like you’re on a diet (2).
Make Better Food Choices
When you know which foods are high in calories, it’s easier to make healthier choices. For example, if you’re at a restaurant and you see a dish that’s high in calories but low in nutrients, you can make a better decision about whether or not to order it.
Eat More Nutrient Dense Foods
Since the calorie density chart focuses on the quality of calories, it naturally leads you to eat more nutrient-rich foods.These are the kinds of foods that will help you lose weight and improve your health (4).
High-calorie-density foods are often high in refined carbs and sugar, which can trigger cravings. But when you focus on eating low-calorie-density foods, you’re less likely to crave unhealthy snacks and junk food.
The Bottom Line
If you’re trying to lose weight, the calorie density chart can be a helpful tool. It can help you make better food choices, eat more nutrient-rich foods, and lose weight without feeling deprived. So put it to good use and see how it can help you reach your weight loss goals.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A proposed nutrient density score that includes food groups and nutrients to better align with dietary guidance (2019, nih.gov)
- Calories, Energy Balance, And Chronic Diseases (1992, nih.gov)
- Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management:Cutting Calories WhileControlling Hunger (n.d., cdc.gov)
- Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance (2021, nih.gov)
- Study pinpoints top sources of empty calories for children and teens (2021, eurekalert.org)
- The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food* (2018, nih.gov)