Rethinking Food: Energy and Energy Density
There are so many clickbait articles out there suggesting that weight loss is just one superfood away, or that portion control will solve all your overeating problems. While both of these topics can be valuable, along with the countless other tips for diet, these approaches to weight loss can often fall short in their long-term effectiveness because they leave you feeling hungry or they decrease the actual quality of your diet. How many of us have given up on a diet because we’ve just wanted to enjoy food again? Or because we haven’t had the time for the complicated calorie counting?
Without oversimplifying the nuances of nutrition, digestion and weight loss, the following is a helpful way to reframe thinking about food. Foods can be grouped according to density, along a spectrum of water-dense foods to energy-dense foods. Energy density is the number of calories per gram in any given food. Foods that are water-dense (ex: fruits, greens and many veggies) have a higher water content and lower calorie content than their energy-dense counterparts (ex: root vegetables, proteins like beans, rice, most processed food, etc.).
Hold onto your hats! Here’s where it gets interesting: research has shown that people tend to be consistent with the amount of food they eat, regardless of density. Since a larger portion of water-dense foods will have the same number of calories as a small portion of energy-dense foods, you can eat more water-dense foods than energy dense foods and consume the same number of calories!
While it is better to eat a higher ratio of water-dense foods to energy-dense foods, both are essential to your body’s well-being. Pairing water-dense and energy-dense foods together in your meals will help you feel more full for longer and support good digestion (water-dense foods tend to be higher in fiber!). And calories aren’t all bad; they help fuel our bodies! The body’s need for calories is dependent on a number of factors, including age, height, activity levels, among other factors. (This Calorie Calculator can help you determine how many calories you should be eating daily.)
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet. The trick is to find your body’s balance, learning about what your body needs by paying attention to what makes you feel full, and by trying and adjusting the ratio of water-dense and energy-dense foods you eat. The effort it takes to find your body’s will be worth it!