Calorie Density – What is it and how can it help you lose weight?

I used to be against calorie counting. I thought it promoted anxiety, OCD-type behavior, and a low self esteem. I still believe that these things are possible, but I found that counting my calories actually gave me the freedom to eat more and stress out less. This all happened once I gained an understanding of calorie density.

Calorie density is a measure of how many calories are in a given weight of food. Let’s take almonds and strawberries for example. One pound of almonds has 2,608 calories. One pound of strawberries has 151 calories.

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Not to state the obvious, but that’s a pretty big difference.

Now, I’m not saying that almonds are “bad for you,” what I am saying is that we need to be aware of which foods are high-calorie dense and try to consume more low-calorie dense foods.

Foods that are low-calorie dense are not only lower in total calories for a given weight, they also tend to be higher in fiber which helps to keep us full. In addition, low-calorie dense foods tend to be higher in nutrient content. Long story short, they are all around good for you.

Which foods are low/high-calorie dense? Here is a scale:



Vegetables 65-195
Fruit 140-420
Corn, Potatoes, Yams 390-525
Beans – chickpeas, black beans, tofu 270-740
Grains – oatmeal, rice, pasta, bread 280-1240
Fish and Seafood 450-830
Meat 750-1020
Dairy 410-3250
Sugars – honey, agave, maple syrup, corn syrup 1200-1800
Artificial Junk Food – white bread, potato chips, oreo cookies 1210-2400
Nuts 2640-3030
Oils 4,000

*Source – The Pritikin Principle: The Calorie Density Solution,” by Robert Pritikin and Forks Over Knives

How can you use this knowledge to help in weight loss or maintenance ?

Here’s an analogy for you:

Pretend that each week you have to buy a new set of shirts, but you only have a $50 allowance. You spend all your money on one shirt and then have to wear it everyday. Eventually it gets worn down. You get to the point where you have to buy another shirt, and in order to do so, you take out a loan. The next week rolls around, you make the same mistake, your loan increases, and the cycle continues.

This is how weight gain happens.

We each have an allotted “allowance” of calories to spend. If we use a large portion every day on cereals, sugary drinks, breads, nut butters, and added oils, will we be full and satisfied? Or will we be hungry, and eat excess calories that we don’t have to spend?


If we use our allowance on low-calorie dense foods, we are more likely to be full and satisfied without having to take out a “loan” or eat more calories than we can afford.

This can promote weight loss or weight maintenance, in addition to the general health benefits from the high nutrient content in low-calorie dense foods. 

However, I get it. I love my peanut butter, I like to add a little oil to my roasted vegetables, and I have been known to eat an entire bag of popcorn on the weekend.

Plus, there are many health benefits from high-calorie dense foods. Some examples include: olive oil and heart health, cashews and cancer prevention, or honey and sore throats.

I don’t believe that we should completely eliminate high-calorie dense foods from our diets. But I think we need to be more aware of which foods we spend the majority of our allowance of calories on.  

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much of what you eat come from high-calorie dense foods? Is it the majority of your meals?
  • Are you aware of how much you are eating?
    • 1 tbs of olive oil = 119 calories. Are you measuring it? If not, you could be consuming much more than you think. And I don’t think 400 calories from olive oil is good for anyone!
  • Are you willing to spend a large portion of your calories on foods that do little to fill you up?

Lastly, here are a few Action Steps:

  1. Try beginning each meal with a low-calorie dense food. For example, having a salad before dinner, or eating an apple before lunch.
  2. Portion your plate so that ⅔ come from low-calorie dense foods.
  3. Be aware of serving sizes of high-calorie dense foods and use a measuring tool when you can.

Questions on how to count calories or how to make meals from low-calorie dense foods? Reach out!



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