Food Energy Density: EP’s Functional Chiropractic Team


The brain and body need macronutrients that include carbohydrates, fats, and protein in the right amounts to energize the body. About half of the calories should come from carbohydrates, 30% from fat, and 20% from protein. Food energy density is the amount of energy, represented by the number of calories, in a specific weight measurement.

Food Energy Density

Energy density is determined by the proportion of macronutrients – protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and water.

  • Energy-dense foods are high in calories per serving.
  • Foods with large amounts of fiber and water have a lower density.
  • Foods high in fat have an increased energy density.
  • An example of a high-energy-density food is a donut because of the high-calorie count from the sugar, fat, and small serving size.
  • An example of a low-energy-density food is spinach because it only has a few calories in a whole plate of raw spinach leaves.

Energy Dense Foods

Energy-dense foods contain a high number of calories/energy per gram. They are typically higher in fat and lower in water. Examples of energy-dense foods include:

  • Full-fat dairy
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Nut butter
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Thick sauces
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Less nutrient-dense foods include:

  • Sweets
  • Deep-fried foods
  • French fries
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Chips

Foods like soups and beverages can be either high or low energy density depending on the ingredients. Broth-based soups with vegetables usually have low density while creamed soups are energy-dense. Non-fat milk is less dense than regular milk, and diet soda is less dense than regular soda.

Low Energy Dense Foods

  • Foods with low energy density include high-fiber green and colorful vegetables.
  • Foods with low energy density are often nutrient-dense, which means they have plenty of nutrients per serving size.
  • Many fruits, berries, and vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals.
  • Foods high in water content like citrus fruits and melons are usually less energy-dense.
  • Low-calorie foods often have a low energy density, but not always.
  • It’s important to read nutrition labels to know how many calories are being provided daily.

Weight Management

  • Weight management is about watching how many calories are taken in and how many calories are burned.
  • Filling up on foods with low energy density will cause the body to feel satisfied while eating fewer high-density calories.
  • Plan all meals so they include foods with a low energy density and high in nutrients.
  • However, the opposite can happen if individuals eat mostly low-energy-dense foods, will need a larger volume of food to fill up, and as a result, will take in more calories.
  • This is not ideal for losing weight, but it could be helpful if trying to gain weight.
  • High-energy-dense foods that are nutritious include avocados, nuts, and seeds.

Adjustment Recommendations

Add More Fruits and Vegetables To The Plate

  • At least half of a plate should be covered with low-calorie fruits and vegetables.
  • Berries are sweet and delicious and provide antioxidants
  • Leave a quarter of the plate for the protein, and the remaining quarter can hold a serving of starchy foods like pasta, potatoes, or rice.
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables will partially fill the body leading to eating less high-energy-dense foods.
  • Picky eaters should try various recipes, sooner or later, they will discover something they enjoy.

Start With Salad or a Bowl of Clear Broth Soup

  • Soups and salads will fill the body before the main energy-dense course like pasta, pizza, or another high-calorie food.
  • Avoid heavy cream-based salad dressings and creamed soups.
  • Water has zero calories and drinking a few glasses can help suppress the hunger until the next meal, or a low-density snack.

From Consultation to Transformation


Fernandez, Melissa Anne, and André Marette. “Potential Health Benefits of Combining Yogurt and Fruits Based on Their Probiotic and Prebiotic Properties.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 8,1 155S-164S. 17 Jan. 2017, doi:10.3945/an.115.011114

Horgan, Graham W et al. “Effect of different food groups on energy intake within and between individuals.” European Journal of Nutrition vol. 61,7 (2022): 3559-3570. doi:10.1007/s00394-022-02903-1

Hubbard, Gary P et al. “A systematic review of compliance to oral nutritional supplements.” Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland) vol. 31,3 (2012): 293-312. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2011.11.020

Prentice, A M. “Manipulation of dietary fat and energy density and subsequent effects on substrate flux and food intake.” The American Journal of clinical nutrition vol. 67,3 Suppl (1998): 535S-541S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/67.3.535S

Slesser, M. “Energy and food.” Basic life sciences vol. 7 (1976): 171-8. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-2883-4_15

Specter, S E et al. “Reducing ice cream energy density does not condition decreased acceptance or engender compensation following repeated exposure.” European Journal of clinical nutrition vol. 52,10 (1998): 703-10. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1600627

Westerterp-Plantenga, M S. “Effects of the energy density of daily food intake on long-term energy intake.” Physiology & behavior vol. 81,5 (2004): 765-71. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.04.030

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The information herein on "Food Energy Density: EP's Functional Chiropractic Team" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, acupuncture, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from various disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*


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