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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



The 2007 report from the American Cancer Institute and the World Cancer Research Fund recommended lowering the average calorie density of the American diet to 567 calories per pound. One can easily do this by following the above principles of calorie density, which allows us to eat freely of unrefined, unprocessed fruits, veggies, starchy veggies, intact whole grains and legumes without the addition of salt, sugar and/or fat/oil.


In May of 2012, A systematic review of the evidence on calorie density was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and concluded that "there is strong and consistent evidence in adults showing that consuming a diet higher in calorie density is associated with increased body weight, while consuming a diet that is relatively low in calorie density improves weight loss and weight maintenance." In addition, it also found that diets low in calorie density are also automatically higher in nutrient density and overall diet quality.


NOTE: For those who do not like numbers.


The principles of calorie density all together and work regardless of the numbers or the system or the values used. In other words, from my experience and understanding of the research, people can eat freely of foods that are 300 calories/lb or less and not gain weight. People can consume relatively large portions of foods that are between 300 and 800 and still lose or maintain their weight depending on their individual activity level and metabolism.


And, when we look at the scale, we see that all vegetables, fruits, intact whole grains (potatoes, Pasta, Rice, Barley, Yams, Corn, Hot Cereals) & all Beans, Peas, Lentils meet that criteria. So, without knowing the numbers, we know we can eat freely of these foods as long as they are without added sugar, oil and/or fat.


When looking at the research, we also see that the intake of foods with a calorie density of 800-1800 should be limited as these can contribute to weight gain and interfere with efforts to lose weight. These are all breads, bagels, dry cereals, crackers, tortilla's and dried fruit.


Additionally, the intake of foods over 1800 cal/lb should be extremely limited as these foods can very easily contribute to weight gain and obesity and can greatly interfere with efforts to lose weight. These are nuts, seeds, oils, solid fats and most all junk foods.



NOTE: For those who really do not like numbers.


To make it even easier, I can take the numbers completely out and it still makes sense and works.


Eat Freely:

(Foods Low In Calorie Density)

- Fruits and veggies


Eat Relatively Large Portions Without Concern:

(Foods Moderate In Calorie Density)

- Starchy Veggies, Intact Whole Grains and Legumes


Limit or Avoid These Foods:

(Foods High In Calorie Density)

- Breads, Bagels, Dry Cereals, Crackers, Tortilla's, Dried Fruit


Extremely Limit or Avoid These Foods:

(Foods Very High In Calorie Density)

- Nuts, Seeds, OIls, Solid Fats, Junk Foods


The beauty of calorie density is that it frees us from all these numbers and having to count, portion weigh and/or measure anything. So, don't get caught up in the numbers and for those who do not like numbers, just understand the principle.



2) The Six "Old School" Food Group Approach (Not Recommended)


Fruits (apples, berries, oranges, etc)

- Calorie density: ~250 cal/lb

- Typical serving: 1/2 cup fresh/frozen

- Calories per serving: 60

- Servings per day; 4-6


Vegetables (broccoli, kale, cucumbers, etc)

- Calorie density: ~125 cal/lb

- Typical serving: 1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw

- Calories per serving: 25

- Servings per day: 10-16 (includes 2-4 servings of cruciferous vegetables)


Starchy Vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash, etc)

- Calorie density: ~450 cal/lb

- Typical serving: 1/2 cup cooked

- Calories per serving: 80

- Servings per day: 5-7


Intact Whole Grains (brown rice, oats, millet, quinoa, etc)

- Calorie density is ~500 cal/lb

- Typical serving: 1/2 cup cooked or 1 oz dry

- Calories per serving: 80

- Serving per day: 5-7


Legumes (beans, dry peas lentils)

- Calorie density: ~550 cal/lb

- Typical serving: 1/2 cup cooked

- Calories per serving: 110

- Serving per day: 1-3


High Fat Plant Foods (nuts, seeds, avocado's, peanuts)

- Calorie density: ~2800 cal/lb

- Typical serving: 1 oz nuts, seeds, peanuts; 1/2 avocado

- Calories per serving: 175 - Servings per day: 1-2


A 2000 Calories "Old School" Sample Meal Plan (for reference only)


Breakfast:

Intact Whole Grains (2 cups) 320 calories

Fresh Fruit (1 cup) 120 calories

Nuts (1 oz) 175 calories


Lunch:

Starchy Vegetable (1 cup) 160 calories

Intact Whole Grains (1 cup) 160 calories

Legumes (1/2 cup) 110 calories

Veggies (3 cups of salad, soup and/or steamed veggies) 150 calories

Fruit (1/2 cup) 60 calories


Dinner:

Starchy Vegetable (2 cups) 320 calories

Legumes (1/2 cup) 110 calories

Veggies (3 cups of salad, soup and/or steamed veggies) 150 calories

Fruit (1/2 cup) 60 calories

Nuts/Seeds (1oz) 175 calories


This equals:

- 6 servings of Starchy Veggies/Whole Grains and 480 calories

- 6 servings of Intact Whole Grains and 480 calories

- 2 servings of Legumes and 220 calories

- 12 servings of veggies and 300 calories

- 4 servings of fruit and 240 calories

- 2 servings of nuts/seeds and 350 calories


Total 2070 Calories.

For those of you avoiding nuts/seeds, you can just leave them out and increase the number of servings or fruits, veggies, starchy veggies and/or legumes to equal 350 calories.



Summary

Calorie density really is the simplest easiest approach to healthy eating. It is easy to understand and follow and provides the simplest easiest path to good health. It is the most common sense approach to sound nutrition. By following the principles of calorie density, you will also meet all your other nutritional needs including vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, essential fats, etc


Have another great week, and remember...


Your Health Is Your Greatest Wealth!


In Health,

Chef Jeff

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