Energy Density Matters for Weight Management

By Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD
Energy Density Matters for Weight Management
The underlying recommendation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 is to eat less to manage body weight. Fortunately, the MyPlate delivers this portion-control message in a way that consumers can more easily relate to.
May 13, 2012

The underlying recommendation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 is to eat less to manage body weight. Fortunately, the MyPlate delivers this portion-control message in a way that consumers can more easily relate (and hopefully apply): Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, choose whole grains balanced with a source of lean protein. Water-rich, fiber-filled fruits and vegetables add volume, enhance satiety, and help reduce the energy density of a meal. Energy density – the number of calories in an amount of food - matters for weight management.  A recent systematic review published in the May 2012 issue of Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics confirms what we know – consuming a diet high in energy density is associated with increased body weight in adults, children and adolescents.  Therefore, consuming a diet lower in energy density is an effective strategy for weight loss and maintenance, particularly for adults. [1]
 
Decreasing energy density
 
Saturated fat, Trans fat, and added sugars all increase energy density so lowering food sources of these will help facilitate weight loss.  Yet, a big complaint of dieters new to eating less is hunger.  Any experienced dietitian knows that deprivation doesn’t work in the long run.  This is where energy density and volume play a role.  Long-term weight management strategies should include helping people feel full with foods that offer fewer calories per bite.  Most people feel full because of the volume of food they eat, not calories.  These are the guiding principles of the Volumetrics Eating Plan, voted one of the most effective diet plans in 2012, and authored by nutrition researcher Barbara Rolls, Ph.D.  It’s a sensible approach, especially for clients that don’t want to count calories.
 
And who really does?
 
Help clients cool off this season, satisfy hunger, and lower energy density by suggesting the following:

  • Eat more naturally water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as dishes that add water such as broth-based soup, poached or steamed fish and whole grains.  Cool off this season with a satisfying bowl of delicious gazpacho.
  • Increase the volume of favorite dishes by adding fiber-rich fruits and veggies and decreasing the portion of foods high in fat and added sugars, such as refined grains, cheese, and whole milk dairy products.  For example, add squash, peppers, and greens to egg, pasta, or rice dishes.
  • Quench thirst with water.  When plain water doesn’t satisfy during warmer months, suggest keeping a pitcher of water with lemon, lime, orange, or cucumber slices in the refrigerator.  Or try bubbly mineral or seltzer water.
  • When you need a splash of flavor, stay hydrated with calorie-free beverages sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener, such as aspartame.  Sipping on sugar-sweetened soft drinks adds unfulfilling calories and is the biggest contributor of added sugars in the diet.  Instead choose from a wide variety of diet beverages, including flavored water, soda or tea, sports drinks, and portable calorie-free drink mixes.
  • Iced tea or coffee sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener, such as aspartame can offer a caffeine boost without busting the calorie bank.
  • Satisfy hunger with low-fat or nonfat milk, or vegetable juice. 


Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian and provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.
 
 
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[1] Pérez-Escamilla, R. et al. "Dietary Energy Density and Body Weight in Adults and Children: A Systematic Review." 2012.  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(5).

Energy Density Matters for Weight Management

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