Updated on January 18, 2021
What is calorie density and how can harnessing knowledge around it help you to make more informed food decisions and live a healthier lifestyle?
What does calorie density mean?
In simple terms, calorie density refers to the calorific value on a certain food. Generally speaking, foods high in fat and/or sugar tend to be packed with more calories.
To understand this concept further, you need to understand how many calories are in the main macronutrients that make up all of our food.
Macronutrients refer to the main three groups Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat – all of which are present in the foods we eat.
But each macronutrient group contains a different amount of calories per gram. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. Protein provides 4 calories per gram. Fat provides 9 calories per gram.
How does the calorie density of foods affect your weight?
As you can see, food higher in fat contains more calories by gram. Looks can be deceiving — even relatively small amounts might contribute more calories to your daily intake than you’ve bargained for. This often leads people to adopt a low-fat diet to avoid excess weight gain.
The problem with high calorie dense foods, often highly processed or fast foods, is that the suggested serving sizes are a lot lower, meaning you eat less and they don’t fill you up. This often leads to over eating of these calorific foods.
Take for example a plate of broccoli vs a plate of macaroni cheese. Clearly, the macaroni is much higher in calories due to the carb and fat content. Now imagine that both plates equal 500 calories. You’d be left with a huge plate of broccoli, and a small to medium portion of macaroni cheese.
Most people would become hungry after a small portion and consume more food, exceeding their daily calorie needs.
In conclusion, high calorie foods are delicious and should definitely be included in your diet in moderation. But remember, foods with a lower calorie density like vegetables and whole-foods can be consumed in higher volumes, keeping you fuller for longer.
How understanding calorie density can help to prevent cancer
Maintaining a healthy diet and keeping your body fit and strong is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.
Too often, the traditional American plate is not healthy – as a nation, we rely on fast and processed foods instead of healthy home-cooked meals.
We know that making extensive changes to your diet can be tough. It’s common to get used to your dietary habits, and transforming your approach to nutrition can be an effort.
You don’t have to change everything overnight though…
AICR’s New American Plate demonstrates healthy food choices for the proportion of different foods on your plate and for the portions you eat. The New American Plate illustrates AICR’s 2/3 to 1/3 plate principle—filling 2/3 or more of your plate with colorful plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and filling the remaining 1/3 or less of your plate with animal foods such as poultry, seafood, lean red meats, eggs and dairy. Eating this way can not only help you manage your weight but can also help you feel better and protect against chronic diseases. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from cancer, as having overweight or obesity is directly linked to 12 types of cancer.
The 2/3 to 1/3 plate principle is not a diet, but rather a fun and simple way to look at what you are eating every day and to help make your meals more plant focused with built-in flexibility.
Our brochures are full of ideas on how to eat better for lower cancer risk and better health.