The phrases “calorie density,” and “high volume and low volume,” foods get throw around when talking about weight management, but what do these terms mean, and how do they actually impact weight change and nutritional goals? Knowing which foods fall into these certain categories and how those foods can influence a diet plan can be majorly beneficial towards accomplishing food and weight goals!
When a food is referred to as highly calorically dense this means that the amount of food (physically) will be small but the calorie count will be high. An example of this would be a tablespoon of butter, which clocks in around 100 calories, a number that is not high, BUT compared to how much food you’re getting it is a larger number. Although the quantity of food, one tablespoon, is rather small (about half the size of a golf ball) the calorie load, relative to the amount of food, is high. By comparison, 100 calories of celery, a low-calorie density food, is roughly 18 – 7 inch stalks of celery, or about an entire bag of celery from the grocery store. For 100 calories of a highly calorie dense food you get 1 tablespoon of butter, or, from a low-calorie dense food, an entire bag of celery.
On the flipside of the calorie density is food volume. In the above example of butter vs. celery, butter would represent a low volume food, as one tablespoon is not a large amount of food. However, celery, at 18 – 7 inch stalks, represents a large amount of food, and a high-volume item. High volume foods represent those that feature a low-calorie density, and therefore have to be eaten in higher amounts in order to consume adequate calories. Low volume foods are those that have high-calorie density and therefore are eaten in smaller amounts in order to consume adequate calories.
Food volume and calorie density both directly factor into satiety and feelings of fullness with meals. Knowing which foods represent lower calorie loads (low calorie density) and higher volumes can be beneficial to weight loss efforts, where the goal is to eat in slight (400-800 calorie) deficit. These higher volume, lower calorie foods are useful in weight loss efforts because the higher volume quantities of these items will help facilitate feelings of fullness, as quantity of food is a big factor in feeling satiated by meals, as our stomachs can only hold so much! In reverse, when trying to gain mass and put on weight, low volume, higher calorie foods can be useful, because in gaining weight the goal is to eat at a calorie surplus (300-700 calories), which is a lot easier to do with foods that do not take up so much space in the stomach. If the stomach can hold for example a baseball sized amount of food (this is just an example, not actually how much food the stomach holds) that baseball amount of food from things like butter will be significantly more calories than a baseball sized amount of food from celery.
Utilizing a knowledge of what foods fall into these categories can be very beneficial to weight management goals. Examples of low-calorie density, high volume foods are pretty much any and all vegetables and most fruits! Additionally, foods like oats and quinoa are lower calorie, higher volume examples of complex carbohydrates. Leaner meats and lower fat dairy items are also good choices for protein sources that tend to be higher volume! On the other side of the calorie density and volume spectrum are foods that tend to be higher in fat. Low volume, higher calorie examples are foods like nuts and seeds, avocados, oils, fattier meats like ribeye, chicken thighs, or salmon. With carbohydrates food like potatoes and bananas tend to be a bit more densely calorie packed but still high in quality micronutrients, which aid the body in a number of beneficial ways.