At this time of the year everywhere you look there is food packed with calories from fat and sugar - chocolates, Christmas cake, mince pies, brandy butter, cream, biscuits and cheese’. These foods are energy dense. The problem with them is they can lead to weight gain if you eat too much. It is worth bearing in mind that the average adult weight gain over the Christmas period is 1 kg. So how can we get around this? One way is to eat mainly food which is less energy dense.
'Energy density' is the amount of energy (or calories) per gram of food. Lower energy density foods provide fewer calories per gram of food – this means that you can have satisfying portions of these foods with a relatively low calorie content. Evidence suggests that diets with a low energy density can help people maintain a healthy body weight.
What are low energy dense foods?
Low energy density foods have a higher water content such as:
The fibre content in foods like wholegrains such as pearl barley, chickpeas and even the skin on potatoes can help to reduce energy density.
High energy density foods tend to include foods that are high in fat and have a low water content, for example biscuits and confectionery, crisps, peanuts, butter and cheese.
How do low energy dense foods help you to manage your weight?
Studies have shown that people tend to consume about the same amount (weight) of food each day, but not necessarily the same amount of energy (or calories). This means it is possible to consume less energy, without feeling hungrier, by eating a lower energy density diet, which still makes up the same weight of foods overall throughout the course of a day. Choosing a meal made from food that has a lower energy density means you can eat a lot more food for the same number of calories.
How is energy density calculated?
The energy density of food can be calculated if you know the weight of the serving in grams.
The energy density of a food is the number of calories divided by the weight.
Energy density = number of calories/weight (grams)
Here is an example:
Plain yogurt, mixed berries and a sprinkle of granola
Number of calories = 215
Weight of pudding = 300g
Energy density = 215 kcal/300 g = 0.7
Strawberries and double cream
Number of calories = 215
Weight of pudding = 140g
Energy density = 215 kcal/140 g = 1.5
Both puddings have a similar calorie content but the yogurt, berries and has a much lower energy density than the strawberries and cream. The strawberries and cream are twice as energy dense as the berries and yogurt. The berries and yogurt would keep you feeling fuller for longer.
How are energy dense foods classified?
Very low energy density foods are less than 0.6 kcal/g
Low energy density foods are 0.6 to 1.5 kcal/g
Medium energy density foods are 1.5 to 4 kcal/g
High energy density foods are more than 4 kcal/g
How to include less energy dense foods in your diet?
It is better to base the diet around foods that are low or very low in energy density, to consume moderate amounts of some medium energy density foods and consume higher energy density foods in small amounts and less often, as demonstrated in the Eatwell Guide.
Low energy dense foods
Foods with a lower energy density (less than 1.5 kcal/gram) include:
These foods should make up most of what we eat.
Medium energy density foods
Foods with a medium energy density ((1.5 to 4 kcal/g) include a wide range of foods, some of which can be an important part of a healthy balanced diet such as grilled salmon, lower fat cheese or lean red meat.
High energy density foods
Foods with a high energy density (more than 4 kcal/g) tend to be high in fat and have a low water content e.g. biscuits and confectionery, fried crisps, peanuts, cheese, butter, oil and mayonnaise. When consuming a low energy density diet, you can still eat foods from this category, but in small portions and not too often.