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A Common Sense Approach To Sound Nutrition

A Common Sense Approach To Sound Nutrition

Jeff Novick, MS RD

May 11, 1999

Calorie density, is the simplest easiest approach to healthy eating. It is easy to understand and follow and is the most common sense approach to sound nutrition. In addition, by following the principles of calorie density, you will also meet all your other nutritional needs including vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, essential fats, etc. The basic principles of calorie density are simple and outlined below.

However, for those of you who still want to think about food groups, servings sizes and amounts of servings, I have provided an "old school" approach to this way of eating from that perspective. Regardless of which perspective you follow, the food you eat and the amounts will be the same. The calorie density approach just provides the simplest and easiest road to get there.

Remember, these are just guidelines expressing the principles and not exact recommendations.

1) The Calorie Density Approach (Highly Recommended)

Calorie density is simply a measure of the amount of calories in a given weight of food, most often expressed as calories per pound. A food high in calorie density provides a large amount of calories in a small weight of food, whereas a food low in calorie density has much fewer calories for the same weight of food. Therefore, for the same number of calories, one can consume a larger portion of a food lower in calorie density than a food higher in calorie density. On a day-to-day basis, people generally eat a similar amount of food, by weight. Therefore, choosing foods with a lower calorie density allows us to consume our usual amount of food (or more) while reducing our caloric intake.

Foods low in calorie density also tend to be higher in satiety so by consuming foods lower in calorie density, one can fill up on much fewer calories without having to go hungry. In addition, the foods that are lower in calorie density (fruits, veggies, starchy vegetables, intact whole grains and legumes) are also the foods highest in nutrient density. Therefore, by following a diet lower in calorie density, one also automatically consumes a diet higher in nutrient density.

Principles of Calorie Density

- Hunger & Satiety

Whenever hungry, eat until you are comfortably full. Don't starve and don't stuff yourself.

Sequence Your Meals.

Start all meals with a salad, soup and/or fruit

- Don't Drink Your Calories

Avoid liquid calories. Eat/chew your calories, don't drink or liquify them. Liquids have little if any satiety so they do not fill you up as much as solid foods of equal calories.

- Dilution is the Solution: Dilute Out High Calorie Dense Foods/Meals

Dilute the calorie density of your meals by filling 1/2 your plate (by visual volume) with intact whole grains, starchy vegetables and/or legumes and the other half with vegetables and/or fruit.

- Be Aware of the Impact of Vegetables vs Fat/Oil

Vegetables are the lowest in calorie density while fat and oil are the highest. Therefore, adding vegetables to any dish will always lower the overall calorie density of a meal while adding fat and oil will always raise the overall calorie density of a meal

- Limit High Calorie Dense Foods

Limit (or avoid) foods that are higher in calorie density (dried fruit, high fat plant foods, processed whole grains, etc). If you use them, incorporate them into meals that are made up of low calorie dense foods and think of them as a condiment to the meal. For example, add a few slices of avocado added to a large salad, or a few walnuts or raisins added in a bowl of oatmeal and fruit.

The Calorie Density Scale

Foods Cal/#

Vegetables - 60 - 195

Fruit - / - 140 - 420

Potatoes, Pasta, Rice, Barley, Yams, Corn, Hot Cereals - 320 - 630

Beans, Peas, Lentils (cooked)- 310 - 780

Breads, Bagels, Fat-free Muffins, Dried Fruit - 920 - 1360

Dry Cereals, Baked Chips, Fat-free Crackers, Pretzels - 1200 -1800

Sugars (ie, sugar, honey, molasses, agave, corn syrup - 1480 - 1760

Nuts/Seeds - 2400 - 3200

Oils - 4000

A Calorie Density Chart