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Understanding calorie density

Updated: May 6

Oftentimes people will go into adopting a vegan lifestyle with the mindset that they will automatically lose weight. Or, they start this way of eating and then notice that the scale is slowly going up. While science and studies show that eliminating meat and dairy are healthier options due to reducing risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers - do not get discouraged if things are not going quite as expected. Going vegan isn't an automatic lose weight and drop the excess pounds. Understanding calorie density is a useful tool that will set you up for success in your transition for healthy weight management and getting more bang for your nutritional buck.

To kale or not to kale.

What is calorie density?

The principles behind calorie density are quite simple. It's not about counting calories at all, but knowing the nutritional density of your food. This will steer you in the right direction in food choices.

  1. A measure of how many calories are in a certain weight of food.

  2. A food high in calorie density has a large number of calories in a smaller weight (volume) of food.

  3. Eating larger portions of lower calorie dense foods is ideal.

  4. Higher volume of food for lower calories are more filling and nutrient dense.

  5. NO counting of calories but rather eating high nutrient foods to satiety.

If you have just started on this transition to eating vegan and you are getting discouraged because you are eating all of the right foods and are maybe gaining weight or are not losing the weight that you thought you would, then take a look at what you are eating even though it is a "whole food," "real food," or "vegan."

Are you cooking your meals by adding in 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil? That alone is around 300 calories that is already factored into your meal. Training your tastebuds to enjoy the taste of foods that are not drenched in oils will be a huge benefit. Oil is also a processed food. Since we mentioned olive oil, let's talk about this. The oil is extracted from the olive through a high heat process and stripping any kind of nutrition from it. It is extremely high in calories, holds no nutritional value, and is damaging to the endothelial cells in your heart. The same goes for coconut oil. ALL oil. Learning to cook without oil will be one of the best things that you can do for yourself. You can start by avoiding any products that include oil - most packaged foods will contain oil and that might seem discouraging at first. This is one of the reasons why cooking at home and buying real whole foods is exciting because you control exactly what goes into your meals. There's more to go on about oil, but we'll keep it to topic.

We're talking calorie density here, so I will focus on that.

Who the heck doesn't love peanut butter or nut butter? Perhaps you are adding a lot more nut butters to your oatmeal, smoothies, or sandwiches. Be mindful of how much nut butter you are eating. Although nuts are healthy fats and a whole food, they are high in calorie density. Maybe sprinkle a few walnuts on your salad, for example, and not a handful. Eat them sparingly.

Picture this illustration as your stomach. This is what 500 calories would look like and notice how oil is not filling at all but so high in calories. Would you rather eat a larger volume of food that keeps you full or a smaller portion of food or food drenched in added (unnecessary) oil that is higher in calories? I know what I would choose.

Here is a snippet from a larger talk about calorie density with Dr. Jeff Novick.

You can also find the full version linked along with this one. I hope you find it useful.

There are lots of talks and videos regarding calorie density that you can find. Keep in mind that this isn't about getting skinny, this is about a healthy lifestyle and weight management.

The bottom line is eat more vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, grains, sprinkle in some healthy fats, nuts and seeds, keep processed foods to a minimum and avoid oils. You don't have to do this to be vegan, but you will be a healthier version of yourself, and achieve your healthy weight management goals.

I hope this brief writing and illustrations on calorie density are useful to you and will help you achieve your goals during this lifestyle change. I know with me personally, I was gaining a little bit of weight at first and couldn't figure out why. But once I learned about calorie density I was able to change a few things, create new long lasting habits, and break the added oil cycle. Maybe it will help you do the same.

Talk with you soon!



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