Habits that make you fat: Energy density

Habits that make you fat: Energy density

Snacking or 'grazing' on energy-dense foods can seriously undermine weight loss.

Because of the over-sized portions of many common snack foods such as muesli bars, muffins and cookies, food that was once considered a snack food may now contain the energy of a meal.

If you are eating over-sized snacks, snacking more than 2-3 times a day or eating multiple snacks at any one time, you'll undermine your ability to lose weight.

What is energy density?

High-energy foods such as biscuits and fried food may taste appealing but often have a low satiety value: they don't make you feel satisfied or full unless you overeat.

Whereas energy-light foods such as fruit, low-fat milk, soups, whole grain cereals etc make us feel full with fewer kilojoules.

Since we basically eat the same amount of food every day, deciding on whether to eat high or low energy-density food can be the difference between weight gain or weight loss.

The key to choosing low energy-density foods is to look for food with a high water content.

So how can you tell if food is energy-dense?

Learn to read the labels of snack foods and compare the energy (kilojoule) per 100 grams listed with other similar food products. Choose a product with the lowest kilojoule content if you are looking to restrict your total energy intake to allow for weight loss.

Compare the kilojoule per serving with the actual volume or size of the serving. Just because a snack is small in volume doesn't necessarily mean it is small in energy.

Think of the difference between an average banana (550kJ in 120g) and a small chocolate bar (1077kJ in 51g). Both are snack-size but the chocolate is a lot more energy-dense than the banana.

Drinks are another trap. In a recent study it was reported that if people were fed an extra 500 kilojoules a day as solid food, they would compensate by eating less energy for the rest of the day. However, when
they were given the extra 500 kilojoules in a drink (soft drink, juice or other clear liquid) they did not reduce their daily intake accordingly. This is an important concept, especially when dealing with overweight children and adults who are large consumers of soft drinks and juices.

Energy-dense versus energy-light snacks

Snacking or grazing on energy-dense foods can undermine weight loss. Choose energy light instead.


  • chips with creamy dip
  • banana chips
  • chocolate biscuits
  • potato chips
  • fruit juice
  • ice cream
  • chocolate bar


  • carrot sticks with hummus
  • a banana
  • plain fruit biscuits
  • popcorn
  • whole fruit
  • frozen yoghurt
  • chocolate milk
Author: Nikki Hart

Healthy Food Guide

First published: Nov 2006

2017-04-03 17:23:56

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