Grapes or Raisins?

Almost everyone who is health conscious agrees that American food portions are out of control!  One of our most visited blogs "Eat less, Move More" has generated a lot of comments and many readers are surprised how small portions need to be if you want to lose weight.   We've also received a number of suggestions like using a smaller plate, eating 5-6  mini meals every day, etc.   But the bottom line remains the same:   If you want to actually lose weight and you are not an exercise buff, portion control is a good way to go. However, not all portions represent the same amount of calories.

Feel fuller on fewer calories. This requires understanding the concept of "energy density".   Energy density is the number of calories (energy) in a certain amount of food.   High energy density means that there are a lot of calories in a small amount of food.   Low energy density means there are few calories in a lot of food.

One of the classic examples is raisins vs. grapes.    A one cup of raisins (dried grapes)  has about 434 calories.  A cup of fresh grapes has about 104 calories.  So to eat the same amount of calories, you would have to limit the raisins to 1/4 a cup!  Which choice would make you feel fuller?   One ounce of potato chips is 150 calories, the same amount of calories found in 3 1/2 cups of air popped popcorn.

In order to lose or maintain your weight, your goal should be to eat more  low energy dense foods.  That way, you eat larger portions that make you feel fuller.   Let's explore this density concept a bit further.   Several factors play a role in what makes food high or low in energy density.

1.  Water.   Fruits and vegetables have a high water content which provides volume but not calories, making them a low energy dense food.  A grapefruit is 90 percent water and a  half grapefruit is only 39 calories.  Watermelon is 92% water.

2. Fiber.  High fiber foods provide volume and take longer to digest, making you feel fuller with less calories.

3.  Fat.  Fat is very high in energy density (remember we are really talking about calories!).   One teaspoon of butter contains almost the same number of calories as 2 cups of low energy dense broccoli.

What about nutrition?   Does  "fullness" translate into a adequate nutritional intake?   What foods are better options when it comes to energy density?.    According to the Mayo Clinic Health Weight Pyramid:.

  • Most vegetables are low in calories but high in volume especially lettuce, asparagus, broccoli and zucchini.    Add more vegetables to your pastas instead of meat and cheesy sauces.   Put veggies on your sandwiches instead cheese slices and gobs of mayonnaise.
  • Fruits are healthy but some are lower calorie choices than others and certain fruits have more concentrated sugars (such as raisins) and have higher calories with less volume.   Fruit juices are also relatively high in calories and don't necessarily fill you up.   Eating a whole orange with its natural fiber will fill you up more than a glass of orange juice.
  • Carbohydrates are either grains or foods made from grains like cereals and pasta.  Select carbs that are higher in fiber like oatmeal, whole grain breads, brown rice and avoid breads made with refined white flour and sweeteners.
  • Fats are a high energy dense food but some are healthier than others.   Watch your portions and include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet like nuts, seeds, healthier vegetable oils (flax see, olive, and safflower oil). Just keep the portions small.
  • Sweets are high in energy density and are a challenge when it comes to caloric intake.   Try to find desserts that have low fat and sugar content, such as fruits and low-fat yogurt.  If they are baked, look for whole grain flour pastries.   The key to limiting the effect of sweets is to keep the servings small (share with your table mates--1 dessert, 4 forks--most restaurants are accommodating).
  • Protein comes from plant and animal sources and the healthiest low-energy dense choices are those high in protein but low in fat  such as lentils (also high in fiber!), skinless white meat, and fish.  Select fat-free dairy foods.

Substituting low density foods keep you from feeling food deprived, make you feel better about your meal and will help keep those calories down!  Here's a final example:   A small order of McD's french fries has 225 calories.  You could substitute (with the same amount of calories)  a salad made with a small apple, 10 cups of fresh spinach, and 1 1/2 cups strawberries with a splash of diet dressing.

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Comments

Having tried the low energy dense food program, eventually your body wants protein and "good" fat. Although I agree that food choice makes a difference, you can't live on lettuce alone.

Re: What foods are better options when it comes to energy density? In terms of carbohydrates, it is possible for many people -particularly those who are insulin resistant -to increase satiety by eating low glycemic index types of carbohydrates whcih cause far loess fluctuations in blood glucose levels and thus lessen feelings of hunger for longer periods.

I've found that hominy, mexican style only, is extremely low in calories and very high in fiber compared to its volume. My partner and I have lost lots of weight using this as a substitute for potatoes and corn in various dishes.

This definitely is a good read for those looking to lose weight. I agree about the American food portions being out of control: compared to the portions you find down in Mexico, I go to an American restaurant serving the same recipes and they are WAY bigger! It's getting out of hand, almost, so this a great post... I don't think we learn enough in school about proper diet and nutrition, and we're each charged with learning this stuff on our own, from little articles like this. Thanks for sharing this!

Very nice post, will bookmark this site. I agree today’s older woman are facing more pressure on their weight issues. As a woman who is 50 & above I know how hard it is to stay active & eat healthier.

Brilliant information! I was so surprised with the difference in raisins and grapes! A really useful post that I have printed out to read later and consider whilst food shopping

It shows how well you grasp this topic. Bookmarked this page,thank you god somebody that basically knows what they are talking about – thank you

I agree Substituting low density foods keep us from feeling food deprived, make us feel better about your meal and will help keep those calories down! Postings are nice and good attention too.

In the totality of it all eating the right kind of food makes you fuller and healthy living does really contribute on your weight. Discipline is the key to achieve the body you want.

it doesn't sound right that you could be fuller eating less calories but if you are eating a lot of refined foods & then you eat healthier foods you will see the difference

Thanks for your interesting blog on how we could lose weight or maintain it by having more of low energy dense foods, in order for us to feel fuller at the same time making us more active. Do you agreed that weight loss is a 70 percent to 30 percent battle – 70 percent of your weight depends on your diet and the remaining 30 percent depends on exercise? Editors comment: Both are important!

Thanks for the information. I like the concept of substitution, and I like the picture of Grapes & Raisins, fully illustrates the concept. I think many people may be shock because the there's huge difference in the amount of Grapes & Raisins, but in fact they're with same amount of calories.... I should be aware of the energy density from now on....

I've come to the conclusion that portion control is the first step in losing weight. Then work on food substitution with the food you're willing to exchange. Obviously if the exchanged food is more filling, you have a better chance of staying on a diet.

This is a great article in the thousands of self-help health articles in the internet. Very practical and effective!

Great article. Some foods don't fill you up but are high in calories and bad for you. If we all ate more like this we would be in a lot better shape.

Drinking water can also give you a fuller feeling leading to less calories. Tapering calories, which is eating more earlier, is a good way to keep from getting hungry through the day.

Great Post. In order to lose or maintain your weight, your goal should be to eat healthy foods.

Thank you for such a wonderful post. We particularly like the idea of eating 5-6 mini meals a day. Both my Mom and I were having trouble losing weight until we implemented that idea. It’s a very satisfying way to eat, and it revs up the metabolism at the same time! We also found that drinking half our body weight (in pounds) in oz of water also helped us lose fat and keep it off, because it makes you feel full as well as helps the body with the disposal of waste such as fat (So, someone who weighs 160 lbs benefits from drinking 80 ounces of water a day, 8 oz more if you exercise). Thank you again for sharing your knowledge!

This is a great article in the thousands of self-help health articles in the internet. Very practical and effective!

The website give me some useful information, I like it very much and hope that it can be done better and better.

I want to thank to author Sharon Green for that solid piece of article to let us know more about our health issue. I look forward to reading her more upcoming articles.

I've been using low-carb pasta and low-carb baking flour. It makes me feel full without all the unnecessary calories.

Right on the money there. It really is no science to figure out, I just think many people subconciously ignore it, because they'd rather eat something else. The grape/raisin is an excellent example of your point, since all the water has been removed from the grapes in order to make the raisins.

Thanks for sharing this article. This would be very helpful in achieving a healthier living.

Calorie intake is something that many people need to look at. We usually take in to many calories and thus we feel bloated and fat. Thank you so much for this article. I truly believe that drinking water is the best thing that we can do on a daily basis to feel better about ourselves and thus have a more productive day. Raven

Good article. A very nutritious yet low calorie food is quinoa, a revered food of the ancient Aztecs. Soak it, rinse it, then cook it like white rice.

Thank you for your insightful article. I have tried all of my life to get on the "right" diet ... never coming to the realization that it is a lifestyle I needed to develop. Funny thing, how medical doctors never seemed to have the answers ... they would just say, eat fewer calories and exercise to burn more. I never got the proper instruction about "what kind" of calories. And, I was always told that raisins are very healthy. You clearly point out that a handful of grapes is much better ... and I have learned that if I have those with a small handful of raw almonds, I am good to go! Again, thanks for your insights!

Lots of excercise and lots of water is the key, too many pepole in the US and Europe eat junk food. Great article...

I am also a big fan of eating low energy dense foods. When you eat high dense foods, I don't get full and crave more. On the other hand, if I eat low dense food such as whole grains or natural fruits, I will feel full soon and stop craving for additional food. I think avoiding high energy dense food will help satiate your hunger sooner and help lose weight too.

And eat lots and lots of celery. At abut 6 cals per stick it gives you a negative calorific value. It costs more calories to consume than it provides. Easy on the cream cheese though. ;)

its good info to know what you write, thank for giving great content to online community

Great post! I found the grape/raisin comparison very educational. (Funny, I've always kind of considered eating raisins as a healthy choice but now after reading your article, I realize that could be making even better choices.) I've been looking into a raw food diet, I'm finding that there are some fantastic health benefits and I noticed that a lot of the low energy dense foods that you talk about such as grapefruit, watermelon, vegetables, nuts etc. fit right in with the raw food world. Thanks for giving me some new thoughts on better choices to help keep off that inner tube around my middle

I like the article and hope more people will be visiting this page because in the western society I see too much unhealthy people eating and consuming products that are very unhealthy. Keep up the good articles!

I will pass on this useful information to my clients who suffer from snoring and sleep apnea - losing weight is a key element of their treatment many thanks for this useful and credible information with so much bunk posted all over the net

Water, fiber and fat... I definitely agree that theses are some factors that makes food high or low in energy density. Great post. Thanks

I love this article! Well written and in a great perspective too! I totally agree with you on what you said about drinking water !

Yes, definitely you must drink at least 3L of water each day and eat an apple in between breakfast and lunch. Water and fruits is the solution for a healthier meal.

'High energy density means that there are a lot of calories in a small amount of food. Low energy density means there are few calories in a lot of food' this is an important concept one needs to understand in order to have good food to eat and stay healthy.

Glad to see you take a candid approach to losing weight, especially the comment about the popcorn.

I'm glad you mentioned water as the #1 option but to expand on that, water is a great way to feel full especially at night to keep those night cravings away. If you don't drink enough water then the hunger you are feeling could actually be a sign of thirst. Drink a glass and see if you still feel hungry.

Very solid advice on dieting and nutrition. Many times simply replacing junk foods for the healthy alternatives does wonders on our stomach "fullness" factor.

This is an extremely informative site that I intend to keep enjoying. I am a native to Evanston where NU is and can not believe I found a website that not only is what I was looking for in the way of information, but one that has so much of it to return too. Thank you.

Very nice article! I also prefer to eat skin meat like chicken and turkey with vegetables. In my opinion the best option is to buy frozen vegetables in the grocery store. During cooking chicken you can put them into the microwave. It's the best solution for students like me if you don't have much time.

I absolutely agree with this article. not all carbs and fat should be avoid while dieting. because not all carbs and fat are created equal. but we must eat the right carbs and the right fat. food sources such as protein and fiber will be very well taken when dieting because it can give the full effect. protein and fiber is difficult to digest and thus require more energy to digest. because of that protein and fiber can help in burning fat.

your blog was spot on natural food with plenty of fibre and drink plenty of fresh water is the way to go,Throw out the processed food with all the bad high fat and calorie content.

I've been using low-carb pasta and low-carb baking flour. It makes me feel full without all the unnecessary calories.

I want to say that your article is a life saver for me because I did not take most of this stuff you mentioned into consideration with my diets.

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