Let’s start with calorie density. What is it??

Calorie density refers to the number of calories contained in a gram of food. Foods with a lower calorie density provide fewer calories per gram than those with a higher calorie density. Basically, for the same amount of calories, you can eat a larger portion of a food that is low in calorie density.

For example, let’s say you’d like to eat a snack of about 100 calories. If you choose a small bag of Doritos from your office vending machine (a high-calorie-density food), you can have 8 chips to reach this quota. However, if you decide to have a bowl of strawberries (a low-calorie-density food), you can have 25 strawberries for the same 100 calories. Not only do the portion sizes look dramatically different—barely a handful of chips versus an overflowing bowl of juicy fruit—the first snack offers you nothing but salt, sugar, and empty calories that won’t fill you up at all, while strawberries are low in fat and full of all-natural flavors and colors, fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.

To calculate calorie density, you simply divide the calories per serving by the grams per serving. You can get a reasonable idea of how calorie dense a food is by using this calculation on any food and then using the Tiny and Full Levels as a guide.

Here are the 4 levels of Tiny and Full. 

Level 1: Minimal Calorie Density From 0–0.59

Level 2: Low Calorie Density From 0.6–1.5

Level 3: Medium Calorie Density From 1.6–3.9

Level 4: High Calorie Density From 4.0–9.0

The key is to make sure to eat low-calorie-density foods all day by choosing the foods listed in Level 1 as often as possible, then use those foods in Levels 2 to 4 as condiments by dipping into Level 2 first, and using Level 3 more sparingly. Try to minimize or avoid Level 4 as much as possible. Use Level 4 oils, such as olive oil, in moderation.

Your Level 1 foods are your go-to foods for feeling satisfied on fewer calories. Here you’ll find lots of vegetables and fruits, which are full of nutrients but with a very low calorie density. Make sure to use meat and animal products as condiments. Build bigger meals by incorporating your side dishes and your protein together. Instead of having a small serving of vegetables on the side of your plate, stir-fry up a generous portion of vegetables, such as zucchini, red bell peppers, spinach, carrots, and snow peas, or mix up a large colorful salad of greens, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, shredded cabbage, and cucumbers, and top with chosen bits of protein. Your belly will be Full, but you’ll stay way under your calorie quota.