The secret to losing weight may have been hiding inside low energy-dense foods this whole time. Although the idea of eating less food for weight loss is popular, recent research from the University of Leeds and the weight-loss organization Slimming World has shown that the better way to slim down is to eat more food — as long as it's the right kind. The May 2018 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who followed Slimming World's Food Optimizing eating plan — with an emphasis on low energy-dense foods — lost nearly twice as much weight as those using a traditional calorie-counting method.
If you're scratching your head at the term "low energy-dense foods," you're not alone; it's probably not a term most of us hear very often. But in order to grasp the concept of a low energy-dense food, you first need to understand what energy density means in the food world. As Jacquie Lavin, PhD, head nutritionist at Slimming World, told WomansWorld.com, energy density focuses on the amount of calories in the volume or weight of the food. If you choose foods that have fewer calories per gram than other foods — aka low energy-dense foods — then you can eat more of them without taking in as many calories as you would with other choices. But if you pick foods with more calories per gram — aka high energy-dense foods — it's a different story.
The Tastiest Low Energy-Dense Foods
Dr. Lavin says the key to finding good low energy-dense foods is to look for foods with higher water content and higher amounts of fiber, such as fruits and vegetables. She also suggested lean cuts of meat, poultry, and fish. Even certain types of pasta and rice made with complex carbohydrates can also be included in this type of eating plan. It's worth noting that following a low energy-dense eating plan doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite high energy-dense foods — such as cookies, cakes, and pies — forever. But you do need to focus on eating smaller amounts of those foods, so it's good to know what types of food you can feel free to dig into when you get hungry. We round up some of our favorites below:
- Air-popped popcorn: Mayo Clinic lists this tasty snack as a great low energy-dense choice, especially when compared to potato chips. As experts put it, just one ounce of potato chips packs approximately 150 calories. With air-popped popcorn, you can have about 3 1/2 cups for just 100 calories.
- Blueberries: These tasty fruits are well known for being packed with antioxidants, but they're also a great choice when you're trying to eat more low energy-dense foods. It's no wonder why health experts suggest adding more of these tasty berries to your breakfast in the morning.
- Tomato salsa: If you can handle the heat, try adding a little spice or chili peppers to your favorite dip. Not only is tomato salsa listed as one of the lowest energy-density foods you can buy at the grocery store, increasing the spice level can make this food even healthier.
- Lentils: We've said it before that lentils don't get as much attention as they deserve, and their low energy-density status is just another reason to add these tasty legumes to our diets more often. (Psst: Lentils can help lower blood sugar, too.)
- Watermelon: Who doesn't love a refreshing slice of watermelon during the summer? Considering how low in calories and high in flavor watermelon is, it's no shock that it's such a popular snack. Switch things up and try a watermelon and tomato gazpacho recipe next time you're in the mood for something new.
- Zucchini: The humble squash is widely beloved for being a low-carb pasta substitute, thanks to the popularity of the spiralized "zoodles." But even if you aren't trying to cut carbs, the low energy-dense nature of zucchini is reason enough to indulge in a delicious eggplant and zoodle bolognese recipe tonight.
- Sauerkraut: Whether you slather sauerkraut on everything or you pinch your nose at the fermented cabbage, it's hard to deny that sauerkraut is a great way to add maximum flavor to a dish for a low amount of calories.
- Egg whites: With the addition of herbs and spices, egg whites can be part of quite a flavorful breakfast. It's worth noting that along with being low in energy density, egg whites also pack in a ton of protein. A perfect way to start the day, if you ask us!
- Green beans: If it's been a while since you've enjoyed green beans, this is the perfect excuse to start eating them again: Experts recommend them as a great low energy-density choice — and a quite filling one at that!
- Broth-based soups: We know it might be tough to think about slurping soup during the summer, but just keep this in your back pocket for the colder months: Soups made from broth can be an excellent low energy-dense food for a main course of a meal, especially if it's a soup that boosts your good gut bacteria. Who could say no to that?
Next, learn about some more tasty superfoods that can help you live longer in the video below: