Energy Density: How to Eat More with Fewer Calories

Eat More with Fewer CaloriesEating out is typically an opportunity for people to overeat and go overboard with portions. If you are trying to lose weight, sometimes eating out can be a setback. Not only are the portions larger, but the food is typically higher in fat, salt, and sugar. Research has shown that when we have the choice between eating more or eating less, we typically choose to eat more, especially when we have something tasty in front of us!

One approach to combat overeating fatty and highly caloric foods when you are out, is to start a meal with a large salad filled with non-starchy vegetables (with little or no dressing), or a broth-based low calorie soup. Focusing on eating foods high in nutrients and water, but relatively low in calories, also known as “low energy dense” foods, help to satisfy you due to their water content. Low energy dense foods include non-starchy vegetables, some fruits, broth based soups, and non-fat dairy. They may also keep you from eating large quantities of “high energy dense” foods, which will be higher in calories and fat. High energy dense foods include cookies, chips, pasta with cream sauce, and fried foods to name a few. You can eat a lot more raw leafy greens than you can eat French fries, for a lot fewer calories.

Eating a diet higher in low energy dense foods may help with portion control of the higher energy dense foods. For example if you are at a restaurant and you start a meal with a large house salad filled with vegetables and the dressing on the side, and you order chicken parmesan as your entrée, you are likely to eat less of the entrée compared to if you had not eaten the salad. You may even leave the restaurant feeling pleasantly satisfied, without feeling overstuffed. When you are cooking at home, you can also increase the bulk of pasta dishes and soups by adding vegetables.

The bottom line with many eating plans is to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Not only are they packed with nutrients, but they also have more water and fiber that can help satisfy you and displace your intake of the more “unhealthy” foods available to us.

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