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'Energy Density' Is Key For Weight Control

Emphasizing foods that fill you up while limiting calories seems to help you not only lose weight, but keep it off. But first, you must know what "energy density" means.

"Energy density" refers to how many calories an item of food contains for a certain weight. For an equal number of calories, foods low in energy density will provide a larger portion and satisfy hunger more than high-density foods.

A recent study at University of Alabama in Birmingham focused on behavior changes to help a group of middle-aged, overweight people eat more low-density vegetables, fruits and whole grains and limit high-density meats, cheeses, sugars and fats.

During the 12-week program, the 74 participants lost an average of almost nine pounds. Two years later, only 22 percent had regained more than five percent of their weight, and 78 percent were still below their starting weight and had either continued losing weight or regained very little.

Difference? What they ate 

Food records kept by the participants showed people who maintained their weight loss or continued  to lose  were not eating less food than the other group, but were  consuming  244 less calories each day.

The difference was what they ate:  the energy density of the "regainer" group was about 25 percent higher than that of the "maintainer" group. Regainers were eating larger portions of high-calorie foods among different food groups, including meats and beverages. They slid away from what they had learned about filling up on vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

More than energy density 

Other studies also link energy density and successful weight management.

Researchers at Penn State University found that people who included two servings of filling, low-calorie soup in their diet lost 50 percent more weight than people aiming for the same calories but included two high energy-dense snacks.

However, the researchers compared a group increasing low-density foods  to a group focused on eating less high-density fat and controlling their portions. During the year, both groups lost weight and kept it off, but after six and 12 months, participants who boosted their low-density foods lost more weight. 

For overweight people, losing 10 percent of their weight is considered a realistic target with significant health benefits. However, studies suggest that reducing energy density alone may not be enough to reach such targets.

Penn State research shows that moderately reducing both energy density and portion sizes brings a more substantial drop in calorie consumption than you could realistically achieve by dropping energy density alone. 

A three-part strategy to lose weight - reduce energy density, control portions and exercise daily - can make weight loss more successful.

Turning that strategy into a lifestyle will help to keep a healthy weight and a lower risk of cancer and other diseases.

Nutrient Dense Meals

You can prepare nutrient dense meals by choosing nutrient dense foods and ingredients for your dishes. A nutrient dense meal should have one serving of a healthy protein source such as legumes, fish, poultry or low fat meat. One serving is typically about the size of a pack of playing cards. The rest of the meal should be made up of healthy side dishes. Vegetables are always good, even with a little bit of cheese or sauce. Whole grain pastas, brown rice and wild rice are good choices as well. A green salad with lots of vegetables can make a nice nutrient dense side dish or can be a great meal on its own. Clear soups with lots of vegetables are nutrient dense compared to cream soups which have more calories and are more energy dense.

Some sample Meal Plans with Low Energy Densities are as follows:

Meal 1
- 100 grams unprocessed bran, low fat milk, low fat yogurt
- Total calories: 321 calories

- Compare this with eating corn flakes, low fat milk and yogurt - 549 calories

Snack 1
-50 grams rockmelon 50 grams watermelon
-Total calories: 22.5

-Compare this with having a meusli bar - 124 calories.

Meal 2
2 slices of wholemeal bread Avocado spread Canned tuna Lettuce
-Unpeeled nashi pear
-Total calories: 167 calories

-Compare this with eating a chicken and lettuce white sandwich with margarine, you'd be consuming about 178.70 calories.

Snack 2
-2 raw carrots and 5 slices of fat reduced cheese
- Total calories - estimate around 122 calories

Compare this with eating 1 meusli bar - 124 calories.

Meal 3
-Lettuce, cherry tomatoes and avocado
-Grilled Salmon Mixed Vegetables Brown Rice Seafood Sauce
-Water & Fruit salad
- Total calories - about 494.20

Although the total calorie intake above is quite low for most average adults, it clearly demonstrates how effective energy dense foods limit calories while generously complementing daily dietary intake of other wholesome and nutritious food sources.



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