Calories are a unit of measurement, just like pounds. They roughly measure the amount of energy stored in food. A common mistake people make when they change their diet is falling into the trap of food quality over food quantity. In other words, the thought that eating healthy foods is enough to lose weight without thinking about quantity.
A calorie is a calorie, plain and simple. Eating too many calories will make you gain weight, regardless of the type of food you’re eating. That’s similar to saying that a pound of feathers is the same weight as a pound of concrete. They weigh the same, but they have different densities.
Similarly, 300 calories worth of lettuce looks like an enormous amount of food compared to a candy bar, which packs many calories into a small size. Calorie-dense foods tend to be easier to eat because they take up less room in your stomach. That’s why you can feel similarly full from eating 200 calories of lettuce or 500 calories worth of french fries.
Nutrient density is also important to think about. It’s not necessarily correlated to calorie density, so don’t get the two confused. Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients packed into a food. This is where the term “empty calories” comes from. French fries have a ton of calories but very few nutrients, making them calorie-dense but nutrient sparse.
For people who want to control their weight or lose some, eating less calorie-dense foods is a must. Quite simply, you’re making it harder to eat a lot of food. Vegetables aren’t very calorie-dense, nor is lean meat such as chicken. Opt for these foods to feel full faster and prevent yourself from eating too much.
Eating more nutrient-dense foods is important for overall health, but doesn’t play much of a role in weight loss. Of course you should eat foods with fiber, vitamins, and minerals! But you should do that regardless of your goals. That’s simply a choice that makes you healthier.
A nutrition program that only focuses on the types of foods you’re eating isn’t enough. You also need to account for the amount of calories you consume. Eating less calorie-dense foods and more nutrient-dense food is the holy grail, but nutrition is a constant balancing act and it’s hard to get everything right.