Dietary energy density: Applying behavioural science to weight management

Nutr Bull. 2017 Sep;42(3):246-253. doi: 10.1111/nbu.12280. Epub 2017 Aug 15.


Studies conducted by behavioural scientists show that energy density (kcal/g) provides effective guidance for healthy food choices to control intake and promote satiety. Energy density depends upon a number of dietary components, especially water (0 kcal/g) and fat (9 kcal/g). Increasing the proportion of water or water-rich ingredients, such as vegetables or fruit, lowers a food's energy density. A number of studies show that when the energy density of the diet is reduced, both adults and children spontaneously decrease their ad libitum energy intake. Other studies show that consuming a large volume of a low-energy-dense food such as soup, salad, or fruit as a first course preload can enhance satiety and reduce overall energy intake at a meal. Current evidence suggests that energy density influences intake through a complex interplay of cognitive, sensory, gastrointestinal, hormonal and neural influences. Other studies that focus on practical applications show how the strategic incorporation of foods lower in energy density into the diet allows people to eat satisfying portions while improving dietary patterns. This review discusses studies that have led to greater understanding of the importance of energy density for food intake regulation and weight management.

Keywords: energy density; food choice; obesity; portion control; satiety; weight management.