Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Low-calorie-density foods for weight control

Updated: 04-27-2013

The concept of energy density

Low-calorie foods: Do raisins fit the bill?

Energy density is the number of calories (energy) in a given amount (volume) of food. For weight control, your best bets are healthy foods that provide low energy with high volume. By choosing foods that are low in calories, but high in volume, you can eat more and feel fuller on fewer calories. Certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, tend to be low in energy density — they're low-calorie foods.

So what about raisins? They actually have a high energy density — they pack a lot of calories into a small package. For example, 1/4 cup of raisins has about 100 calories.

Get more for your calories

Low-calorie foods: Grapes

For about the same number of calories as 1/4 cup of raisins, you could eat 1 cup of grapes. Grapes — and foods like them — are good for weight control because you get a relatively large amount of food for your calories.

High vs. low energy density

French fries

Foods high in energy density include fatty foods, such as many fast foods, and foods high in sugar, such as sodas and candies. Consider that a small order of french fries from McDonald's has about 230 calories.

A more filling option

Spinach salad with fruit

For about the same calorie count, you could replace that small order of fries with heaping helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables — such as 10 cups of spinach and a small apple and 1 1/2 cups of strawberries. And with fresh fruits and vegetables, you get a plethora of valuable nutrients — not just empty calories. These foods also take longer to eat and are filling, which helps curb your hunger.

Breakfast: Do's and doughnuts

Doughnut

A single large glazed doughnut is about 315 calories. Will that keep you going all morning?

A better breakfast

Cereal, fruit and toast

For the same number of calories as that doughnut, you could have a bowl of bran flakes with skim milk, blueberries and a slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter.

Lunch on the run?

Candy bar

You could grab a candy bar for a lunch on the run. That's about 280 calories.

A lunch to keep you going

Pita with chicken salad

Or you could have a pita stuffed with low-fat chicken salad for about the same number of calories.

A tale of 2 meals

Cheeseburger

A cheeseburger for dinner? That's nearly 600 calories.

A real meal

Soup and sandwich

For the same calories, wouldn't you rather have a meal — soup, sandwich, fresh fruits and veggies? By choosing healthy, low-calorie foods you can take in fewer calories while still squelching those hunger pangs.

Don't forget to pack snacks

Potato chips

Energy density is also important when you're snacking. If you're working on weight loss or maintenance, you want to keep your snacks at about 100 calories. One ounce of potato chips is about 150 calories.

A snack that packs a punch

Popcorn

Or for about 100 calories, you could snack on 3 1/2 cups of air-popped popcorn.

Practice with your plate

Dinner of fish, pasta, veggies and parfait

To make this way of eating work for you, let your plate be your guide. Fill half of your plate with veggies, one-quarter with whole grains and the other quarter with a small serving of lean protein. This is a simple way to ensure you have filling, healthy meals.

Need a sweet ending? Try fresh fruit and yogurt as a tasty low-calorie alternative to a slice of pie.

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