Although people often refer to the density of their foods, it’s easy to be confused as to what food density is and why it matters. Like density in a scientific sense, food density typically refers to one of two things in regards to the amount of calories or nutrients that are packed into a food item.
Food density plays an important role in your diet because it significantly affects how quickly your body processes the food that you eat. If your body moves through the foods that you eat quickly, you’ll be able to eat more without gaining weight. If the body processes foods that you eat slowly, you’ll go longer periods of time without feeling hungry and generally have a more relaxed metabolism. Neither is necessarily bad. However, if you’re not aware of how your body is reacting to the foods that you eat, you won’t be able to manage the quantity that you ingest in a way that is suitable to sustaining your diet and weight.
Typically, food density refers to the nutrient density of a food. Foods that are nutrient dense are those that pack a good amount of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutritional elements into a relatively small caloric package. The size of the food itself does not matter; food density of this type is specifically related to the quantity of beneficial and healthy ingredients that make up a food item, as compared with the total number of calories that it provides.
A good example of how nutrient density is important in your foods is the comparison between an apple and a donut. The apple and the donut are both roughly the same size, making them comparable alternatives. However, the apple has less than half of the calories of the donut and packs in a number of vitamins and other important nutrients. The donut has a great deal more calories than the apple and is full of empty sugars and other ingredients that are generally much faster to process. This will leave your body feeling hungry again over a shorter period of time than the apple, which will also provide you with a good mixture of nutrients as well.
Caloric density is another option that many people refer to when they speak about “food density.” In the example above, the donut is the more calorically dense food. This typically refers to foods that are small in size but which contain a high number of calories. Generally speaking, caloric density is to be avoided in foods in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Look for foods that have nutrient dense properties, but not those that are calorically dense in order to find the best mixture of ingredients for you. For more information about the nutrient and caloric density in food and why it’s important, speak with a nutritionist or your doctor today.