By opting for a meal with a low energy density, you increase the volume of the meal, while satisfying your appetite.

Do you know the principle of energy density? Energy density is the number of calories provided by a food based on its weight (calories ÷ grams of food = energy density). The lower a food’s density, the fewer calories it has per serving. Conversely, the higher a food’s energy density, the more calories it has per serving.

The following example shows that the number of calories in a regular chocolate bar is equivalent to the total number of calories in five apples. The energy density of the apple is therefore lower than that of chocolate.

Generally, the lower the energy density of a food, the more nutritional value it has. Foods with low energy density (fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereals, beans) contain more water and fibre. Water and dietary fibre take up space in the stomach and contribute to the feeling of satiety (that full feeling), while providing few calories. The reverse is also true: foods with high energy density are often high in fat and carbohydrates and do little to satisfy the appetite. However, there are exceptions, such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, which are sources of good fats despite their high energy density. Although nutritious, these foods should still be consumed in moderation.

The image below shows two meals that contain the same number of calories but a totally different amount of food. By opting for the low energy density meal, you increase the volume of the meal, satisfy your appetite more, and get a host of nutrients.

*This drawing is only available in French.

Research, writing and drawing: Diabetes Québec team of dietitians and nutritionists