What Is Calorie Density And Why Is It Important?

"Calorie density is the simplest approach to healthful eating and lifelong weight management. This common sense approach to sound nutrition allows for lifelong weight management without hunger, more food for fewer calories, and is easy to understand and follow. In addition, by following the principles of calorie density, you will also increase the overall nutrient density of your diet."

~ Jeff Novick, M.S., R.D.


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By now you've probably heard about the effectiveness of eating a low-fat, plant-based whole foods diet. However, some people who try following this approach give up because they feel they aren't getting enough protein due to feeling weak and tired all the time or that they need to eat constantly. However, the reality is that they simply aren't getting enough calories.

The amount of calories required each day to maintain energy balance varies based on age and activity level, but the general recommended guideline is between 2,000 and 3,000 per day for men and 1,600 and 2,400 for women. This is where understanding about calorie density comes in.

Calorie density is a measure of the number of calories per pound in a given food. In general, animal foods and refined foods have a high calorie density, and plant foods have a low calorie density. Here are some examples:


caloric density per pound

  • Non-starchy vegetables:  100-200
  • Fruits:  200-400
  • Starches & Whole Grains:  300-600
  • Beans & Legumes:  300-800
  • Avocado:  750
  • Meat:  1,000-1,100
  • Cereal, bread, & dried fruit:  900-1,400
  • Sugar, honey, & ice cream:  1,200-1,800
  • Junk food:  1,500-1,800
  • Cheese:  1,600
  • Popcorn:  1,800
  • Chocolate:  2,500
  • Nuts & Seeds:  2,400-3,200
  • Oils:  4,000 


Eating foods with a caloric density between 800 and 4,000 often results in weight gain, metabolic disease, insulin resistance, and inflammation. A good guideline is to aim to consume mostly foods under 800 calories per pound. Here's what that might look like:

  • Eat freely:  fruits & veggies
  • Eat relatively large portions:  Starchy veggies, intact whole grains, & legumes
  • Limit these foods:  Animal foods, breads, bagels, dry cereals, crackers, tortillas, & dried fruits
  • Extremely limit these foods: Junk foods, nuts, seeds, oils, & solid fats.

Jeff Novick, MS, RD explains that if you use higher calorie density foods, incorporate them into meals that are made up of low calorie dense foods and use them as a condiments. Examples are a few slices of avocado to a large salad or a few walnuts or raisins added to a bowl of oatmeal and fruit.

Getting back to having energy, hopefully you can now understand why it's important to remember is to consume enough calorie dense plant foods starting early and continuing throughout the day to avoid feeling low energy in the middle and end of the day. As for the ever-present protein question, I said it in my last blog and I'll say it again here, if you are consuming enough calories of nutrient rich plant foods, you are getting enough protein!


Happy, Healthy Living!



JoAnn Newton is a Master Massage Therapist, Certified Diet Counselor & Holistic Nutrition Educator, and Spiritual Counselor who is committed to creating, living, and enjoying health, balance, and freedom on all levels, both personally and professionally, while providing educational and healing services.