For those looking to manage their weight, calories are a piece of the strategy. Calories are the energy we get from food, and some foods have more calories than others. Picking or substituting lower-calorie options in our daily food choices can help us get to our weight loss or management goals.
In looking through the USDA's National Nutrient Database and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there are some foods in the American diet that stand out as calorie-dense, meaning they have a lot of calories per a certain weight of that food. For example, 100g of grapes contain around 70 calories. In contrast, 100g of raisins (dried grapes) have around 300 kcal. Raisins are more calorie-dense than grapes.
Note, you do not need to remove energy-dense foods from your daily food choices, unless you prefer to. Some energy-dense foods also have healthful nutrients like fiber (such as in those raisins) or healthy fats (like in nuts). It is important to eat them less of them since even smaller portions have lots of calories.
When shopping, look at nutrition facts side-by-side for similar foods and pick the one with fewer calories. Or check out Food-a-Pedia from USDA to compare foods.
Common Concentrated Calories
1. Big breads (bagels, baguettes, pizza crust, waffles, etc.)
A slice of bread does not contain very many calories, but these variations of breads do mainly because of their large size.
Reduce calories by: Buy "thin" bagels, order thin-crust pizza, eat sandwiches on bread slices rather than thick baguettes.
When making cheese, water is removed from the milk leaving behind mostly fats and proteins. Fats in food push calories higher.
Reduce calories by: Shop for reduced-fat cheeses and use less on pizza, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and snacks.
3. Fried and mashed potatoes
French fries, other variations of fried potatoes, and mashed potatoes are a very popular energy-dense side to meals. Potatoes on their own are not a source of fat, but frying or adding in butter, sour cream, cheese, or other ingredients to your mashed potatoes will increase the calorie-density.
Reduce calories by: Make your own fried and mashed potatoes more often than buying them from the freezer case or making from a box. Use less of added butter, cheese, etc. in your recipes.
4. Sugar-sweetened beverages
Juice drinks, regular soda, sweetened tea and coffee drinks, energy drinks, flavored waters, and other beverages contain added sugar that increases calories. For as often as many Americans drink them, these calories add up quickly.
Reduce calories by: Buy smaller bottles or sizes of these drinks, and choose plain water when available.
5. Sweetened dry cereals
Dry cereals can be a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Be aware that most brands have at least some added sugar, and many have a lot of added sugar or fat-containing ingredients, such as chocolate, candy pieces, or sugar-coatings on ingredients such as dried fruit or cereal flakes. As a common breakfast staple and pre-bed snack, calories can get high quickly.
Reduce calories by: Shop for low-sugar dry cereals, eat a bowl filled partly with a non-sweetened cereal and the other half with a sweetened one to limit sugar, or try hot cereals like plain oatmeal at least once during the week and add in your own sweeteners. If you regularly use reduced-fat (2%) and whole milk to top your cereal, using fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk instead will help reduce calories.
Creamy Cinnamon Oatmeal (Serves 1)
Cooking oatmeal in milk instead of water will add calories, but gives the oatmeal a sweet taste without adding a lot of sugar.
1/2 cup old-fashion (or regular) oats
1 cup fat-free milk
1/8 tsp cinnamon, or to your taste
1/2 tsp honey
1. In a microwave-safe dish, add oats. Stir in milk. Microwave uncovered on high for 3 minutes or until oats are cooked.
2. Mix in cinnamon and honey.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 240 calories, 3g fat, 105mg sodium, 42g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 13g protein
Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.