What is caloric density?

by | Apr 25, 2022 | Last updated Jun 8, 2022

Imagine two meals: a quarter-pound cheeseburger and a quarter pound of arugula. While they weigh the same, the burger has 14 times the calories.

Here’s where it gets interesting: If you eat the (much lower-calorie) arugula, you could be just as full as if you ate the burger. (Also, you won’t have ketchup on your face.)

Multiple scientific studies have proven that food weight, not calories, is a huge factor in how full you feel. That’s why when recommending what to eat, we always evaluate a food’s “caloric density” (CD).

Note: This article is based on our Noom Weight curriculum. Learn more below.

How to calculate caloric density

Caloric density is the calories per serving of a food divided by the weight of the food (typically in grams).

When you eat low-CD foods, you’ll feel full quicker with fewer calories. When you eat foods with high CD, you need to eat more calories to feel full.

So Noom’s philosophy is simple: Eat more foods with low caloric density.

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

The more water a food has, the lower its caloric density

The secret is water. It has zero calories and the ability to make you feel full. In other words, water is basically a miracle ingredient.

That being said, which food do you think has lower CD, a raisin or a juicy grape? 

It’s a juicy grape.

Since they’re the ones with the water, they have lower CD. Think of it this way: You could eat 1 pound of grapes for 306 calories, or 1/5 pound of raisins for the same 306 calories. If you choose the grapes, you’ll be full. If you choose the raisins, you’ll be left wanting more. This is why grapes are better for snacking—you’ll end up eating fewer calories without even thinking about it.

Here’s how to start eating less dense

It’s not just grapes that have low caloric density. There are so many other foods—like chicken breast, low-fat Greek yogurt, salsa, watermelon, and whole-grain bread—that do, too.

In other words, you don’t have to eat like a rabbit.

Here are some tricks to get you started:

Breakfast:

  • Opt for hard-boiled eggs instead of fried eggs.
  • Replace 1/2 cup of granola with 1/2 cup of oatmeal cooked in water.
  • Spread whole-grain toast with 2 tablespoons of unsweetened jam instead of peanut butter.

Lunch:

  • Top a salad with tuna packed in water instead of tuna packed in oil. 
  • Use lettuce or collard greens as a wrap instead of a tortilla. 
  • Start your meal with a broth-based vegetable soup instead of a cream-based soup.

Dinner:

  • Cook your vegetables in a nonstick pan instead of sautéing them in oil.
  • Replace 1 cup of traditional pasta with 1 cup of spaghetti squash.
  • Serve your chicken with a baked potato instead of fries.

Snacks:

  • Swap a serving of chips with 3 cups of plain air-popped popcorn.
  • Serve 1 cup of low-fat yogurt instead of 1 cup of full-fat yogurt.
  • Snack on 1 cup of grapes instead of 1/4 cup of raisins.

We know, easier said than done. Information is great, but putting it into practice is a different story.

It’s all about striving for progress, not perfection. In time, you’ll find the balance that works for you.

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.