Examples of foods

Foods with a lower energy density (less than 1.5 kcal/gram) include fruit and vegetables and foods with lots of added water, such as soups and stews. Lower fat foods, including pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals and yogurt, also tend to have a lower energy density. These foods should make up most of what we eat.

 

Here are some more examples:

  • Most types of fruit and vegetables
  • Most types of low fat soup
  • Porridge made with water
  • Bran flakes with skimmed milk
  • Low fat yogurt
  • Reduced sugars baked beans
  • Baked potatoes
  • Boiled brown rice

The ‘medium energy density’ category (1.5 to 4 kcal/g) contains a wide range of foods, some of which can be an important part of a healthy balanced diet such as grilled salmon, lower fat cheese or lean red meat and some higher in fat or sugars that should only be consumed occasionally and in small amounts such as pizza, fried chips, pastries and cakes, and jams. When choosing foods in this category consider the guidance from the Eatwell Guide on the balance of foods in a healthy diet.

Foods with a high energy density (more than 4 kcal/g) tend to be high in fat and have a low water content e.g. biscuits and confectionery, fried crisps, peanuts, cheese, butter, oil and mayonnaise. When consuming a low energy density diet, you can still eat foods from this category, but in small portions and not too often.

Remember that the ingredients of the foods and dishes we buy can vary, so it is important to check the nutrition information to see how many calories a food contains. For a quick guide on reading food labels, click here.

Tips for creating a lower energy density diet

There are lots of simple ways to create a lower energy density diet. For example, you can reduce the energy density of a dish quite dramatically just by changing a few ingredients. The good news is that you don’t have to cut out any of your favourite foods, even if they have a high energy density. Having small portions of high energy density foods combined with plenty of lower energy density foods will keep the energy density of your diet low overall.

Here are some top tips for creating a lower energy density diet and helping you to maintain a healthy body weight without going hungry:

  • Choose foods with a high water content, this includes dishes where water is added during cooking (e.g. soups and stews), as these tend to have a very low energy density.
  • Add extra vegetables to starters or main dishes which will help to bulk them up, without adding extra calories e.g. add extra vegetables to stir fries, stews, chilli, pasta dishes and salads.
  • Bulk up meals by adding extra pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils. Pulses provide fibre and protein, but have a low energy density e.g. add extra beans to a chilli, soup or salad. You could also add some extra rice or pasta to soups or salads to make them more filling.
  • Select higher fibre varieties of starchy carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, high fibre breakfast cereals, brown rice, wholewheat pasta and potatoes with their skins. 
  • Choose lean cuts of meat for dishes, trimming off any excess fat, and avoiding the skin on poultry. Select extra lean mince or use a vegetarian alternative, such as mycoprotein.
  • Add more liquids to dishes to help bulk them up without adding extra calories e.g. add extra tinned tomatoes to a chilli or pasta sauce.
  • Avoid using too much oil or fat in cooking and try to use only a little butter/fat spread on your bread or mayonnaise in sandwiches. You could also use reduced fat spread and mayonnaise as an alternative.
  • Salads can be a great low energy density food but not when they are smothered with high fat dressings! Try using low fat salad dressings, for example, those based on lemon juice or vinegar.
  • Use up leftover vegetables to make soups and stews. Again, add extra pulses such as beans or lentils, to bulk up the dishes. Serve with some wholegrain rice or bread and you have a complete meal!
  • Add extra fruit to desserts and use cream sparingly. You could use low fat yogurt or fromage frais as an alternative to cream.
For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk.
Last reviewed Nov 2016. Next review due Nov 2019.