Those interested in weight loss often avoid high-calorie foods as much as they can. But there is more to a healthy diet than simply cutting extra calories. Watching your calorie count is important. But you also need to focus on eating foods with high amounts of nutrients. Sometimes, the healthiest food option isn’t the one with the lowest calories.
This article starts with the basics about what calories actually are and how many you might need. Then, you’ll learn more about some healthy, yet calorie-dense foods.
What Is A Calorie?
A calorie is a unit of measurement, like an inch or a mile. But calories don’t measure distance. Instead, a calorie represents energy.1Almost all foods contain calories. In the simplest sense, everything from your favorite foods to the foods you can’t stand are sources of energy.
Most people know that eating too many calorie-rich foods can make you gain weight. But a better way to think about weight loss is to think in terms of energy.
You need to weigh the amount of energy you take in versus the energy you expend. Taking in more calories than you burn leads to weight gain.2 But how can you know how many calories you need?
How Many Calories Does A Person Need Daily?
Knowing the number of calories you need is an important first step in any weight loss program. The total amount of calories you should eat per day depends on these factors:
- Activity level
Energy needs will vary between individuals. This can make calorie counting difficult. But here is a general guide to how much adults should eat each day based on their sex.
- Adult women: 1,600-2,400 calories per day
- Adult men: 2,000-3,000 calories per day3
Notice that these are ranges. The reason for this is that determining the correct calorie count for you depends on your activity level and more. A high amount of activity requires a high amount of calories.
But be careful with how you use this information. It is far too common for people to go to the extreme when trying to lose weight. Remember that weight loss should occur gradually.4,5
As you start your weight loss plan, do so responsibly. Depriving your body of the energy it needs is not a healthy option. Always speak to your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
By keeping track of your calorie intake, you can have a better idea of when it is okay to eat a high-calorie snack. But not all high-calorie foods are made equal.
What Are Calorie-Dense Foods?
Calorie-rich foods are all around us. These foods can quickly up your calorie count. And when you don’t keep track, this can lead to weight gain.
Many of the most popular foods have a high amount of calories. But the number of calories is not the only potential threat to your health.
Foods like french fries add extra calories to your diet. But they are also full of these ingredients:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
These ingredients are all detrimental to your heart health.7 And almost all fried foods have them. But there are plenty of non-fried foods that also come with a high amount of calories.
For example, unsweetened peanut butter is not necessarily filled with unhealthy ingredients. But they are calorie-dense food. This means that they are not inherently unhealthy. But they will quickly increase your daily calorie count.
The more calorie-rich foods you eat, the less likely it is that you are getting all of the nutrients you need. To remedy this, look for high-calorie snacks that are also nutrient-dense.
What Are Nutrient-Dense Foods?
As mentioned before, you can’t just cut calories and expect to have a healthy lifestyle. You also need to make sure that you are eating nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods have high amounts of the nutrients your body needs to survive and function in a healthy way.
At the very least, you need to eat a balanced amount of the three macronutrients. Those macronutrients are listed below, along with some examples of healthier foods that have them.
- Protein – Scrambled eggs, peanut butter, healthy cheeses like parmesan and cheddar cheese
- Carbohydrates – Whole grains, dried fruit, dark chocolate
- Fat – Healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil
Some foods are both high in calories and high in nutrients. Let’s look at avocado and coconut oil respectively as an example.
One 100g serving of avocado has160 calories. But it also has 2g protein.8
One 100g serving of coconut oil has 892 calories. But it also has 0g protein.9
So, what does this mean?
While peanut butter will raise your daily calorie count, it may be worth it for the nutrients it provides. If your remaining daily calories allow for a high-calorie snack, then peanut butter is a great option.
Here is a list of some other common foods that are both high in calories and high in nutrients:
- Whole-grain bread
To be efficient with your calories, look for foods that have high amounts of multiple macronutrients. But in addition to macronutrients, you also need to make sure you eat enough micronutrients.
Sources Of Micronutrients
Even if you eat plenty of macronutrient-rich foods, your work is far from done. A healthy diet also includes plenty of micronutrients. Generally speaking, micronutrients refer to a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. These are vital to your health, but you need them in lower quantities compared to macronutrients.11
Fruits and vegetables are some of the most micronutrient-dense foods. Since there are so many micronutrients that benefit your health, it can be hard to get them all in high amounts.
One of the best ways to make sure you are getting enough is to eat many different foods. While this seems challenging and time-consuming, there are ways to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in one sitting.
Try some of these options to ensure you are eating plenty of micronutrients:
- Trail mix
All of these meals combine many different ingredients. In doing so, you’re helping your body gain nutrients from many different food sources.
But even when eating these foods, there are a few problematic ingredients to watch out for which will increase your calorie count.
Let’s say you go out to eat while trying to remain healthy. Instead of a burger and french fries, you opt for a Caesar salad. That salad will contain healthy micronutrients. But salad dressing can often have a surprisingly high amount of calories.
This can be frustrating. But eating out, in general, is not conducive to a healthy diet. Rather than going to a restaurant where the calories in the food are beyond your control, seek an alternative.
Making meals at home allows you to control your calorie count. With some effort, you can recreate some of your favorite foods while minimizing the negative health impacts. That Caesar salad you love is just one of many options you can make healthier at home.12
Where To Start
Weight loss is a challenging task. Many people are quick to eliminate high-calorie foods for fear of ingesting extra calories. But remember that calories give your body the energy it needs. And not all calorie-dense foods are unhealthy. Many of these foods are filled with the nutrients you need to lead the healthiest possible lifestyle.