Energy density diet

This diet is based on the principle of energy density of food. It aims to promote the consumption of foods rich in water, fibre and low in fat. This diet therefore leaves an important place for fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. When properly driven, it helps you achieve a healthy weight and develop good eating habits.

The objectives of this regime:

  • Losing weight
  • Achieve a feeling of satiety and satisfaction at all meals
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle

The main principles of the regime

The energy density diet was concocted by American Barbara Rolls, a nutrition professor and researcher at Pennsylvania State University. She has devoted her career to the study of eating behaviours and body weight management. His research has led to a better understanding of the impact of the consumption of certain types of foods on the feeling of satiety. The energy density diet encourages the consumption of satiating low energy density foods and aims to limit high energy density foods.

How does the energy density regime work?

The diet acts on the natural mechanisms of “satiety”. It thus promotes the feeling of fullness, which must appear after a meal that meets the body’s needs. To do this, Barbara Rolls recommends consuming more “low energy density” foods, foods that contain relatively few calories compared to their volume. Satiety is related to the volume of food ingested in the stomach. Low-energy foods, like most fruits and vegetables, fill the stomach and satisfy while providing fewer calories than high-energy foods.

By choosing foods with a low energy density, you can compose hearty meals without them being too high in calories. In addition to providing psychological and visual satisfaction, such meals help to fill the stomach properly. All this contributes to greater satiety. Eating an adequate amount of protein also provides satiety. This also helps to maintain good muscle mass and, at the same time, an adequate basal metabolic rate. The higher the basal metabolic rate, the more calories it burns even at rest. In addition, reducing the consumption of high-fat foods reduces overall caloric intake. Each gram of fat provides 9 calories, compared to 4 calories for each gram of protein and carbohydrates.

How does the low energy density diet make you lose weight?

Beyond the caloric restriction, this diet requires the implementation of some good eating habits to generate a significant and lasting weight loss:

  • Reduce caloric intake from 500 to 1000 calories per day to generate a loss of 500 g to 1 kg per week
  • Choose foods with a low energy density. For example, a soup, salad or raw vegetables as a starter
  • Limit fat intake to only 20% to 30% of total daily calories
  • Eat plenty of fibre every day (30 g for women and 35 g for men), giving priority to wholemeal products
  • Reduce sugar consumption from all sources, including fruit juices and soft drinks
  • Ensure that 15% to 35% of total daily calories come from protein, as for the same volume, they provide more satiety than carbohydrates and fats. When you follow a weight loss diet, protein helps to prevent muscle loss. The best protein choices are low-fat fish, legumes and lean meats
  • Drink plenty: water, milk, juice, broth, herbal teas, etc. (about two litres per day)
  • Consume alcohol as part of low energy meals (no more than one drink per day for women and two for men)
  • Practice 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Include resistance (muscle) training twice a week

Barbara Rolls also gives advice so that we can more accurately assess portion sizes and be aware of our eating habits. Here are some of them:

  • Learn to read labels to know the number of servings in a product and the amount of calories in a serving
  • Weigh food and calculate how many calories we consume
  • Do not rely on other people’s practices to determine the serving size that is right for us
  • Follow the recommendations of the American Dietetic Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research to make up a plate: fill it at least two-thirds full with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Lean animal protein should not occupy more than a third of the total
  • Pay attention to your hunger and satiety throughout the meal. Stop eating as soon as hunger is satisfied
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, quantify your satiety level throughout the meal and adjust your portions according to
  • Eat slowly, calmly and chew well

How long does the energy density diet last?

The low energy density diet can be practiced in the long term since it allows a high consumption of plants, cereals and lean proteins to the detriment of foods that are less interesting from a nutritional point of view. It is perfectly possible to follow this diet until the desired weight is reached and then to continue to incorporate a low energy density day afterwards. However, to follow this diet in the long term, it is important to ensure that you consume enough good fats, which are part of high energy density foods but are essential for good health. Similarly, the caloric reduction must remain reasonable so as not to become dangerous. It is not recommended to consume less than 1500 kcal for women and less than 2000 kcal for men.

Food energy density table

What is the energy density of a food?

Energy density is the amount of calories per gram of food (cal/g). A low energy density means more food for the same number of calories. The factors that influence energy density are the percentage of water in the food, the presence of dietary fibre and fat. The presence of water and fibre reduces the energy density, while the amount of fat increases it. However, it is the amount of water present in a food that most determines its energy density.

Classification of foods according to their water content

FoodstuffsWater content
Fruits and vegetables80 % à 95 %
Soup80 % à 95 %
Cereals85 %
Low-fat fruit yogurt75 %
Boiled egg75 %
Baked pasta65%
Fish and seafood60 % à 85 %
Meat45 % à 65 %
Bread35 % à 40 %
Cheese35 %
Nuts2 % à 5 %
Cracker3 %
Savoury biscuits2 %
Oil0 %

What are the high energy density foods to avoid?

  • Category 1: very low energy density
  • Category 2: low energy density
  • Category 3: average energy density
  • Category 4: high energy density

Barbara Rolls recommends that preference be given to foods in categories 1 and 2, that those in category 3 be consumed in moderation, and that those in category 4 be limited as much as possible.

Examples of foods for each category

CategoriesEnergy densityFoodstuffs


Category 1


Very low energy density

To be preferred


0 à 0,6


Non-starchy fruits and vegetables, skim milk, broth-based soup, fat-free and sugar-free yogurt, light dressing, vinegar


Category 2


Low energy density

To be preferred

0,6 à 1,5


Fruits and vegetables rich in starches (banana, potato, corn, turnip, sweet potato), whole grains, cold or hot breakfast cereals, legumes, low-fat pasta or rice dishes with lots of vegetables, fat-free fruit yogurt, light cheese, tofu, tuna, shrimp, turkey, extra-lean ham, olives, avocado, soya drink


Category 3


Average energy density

To be consumed in moderation

1,5 à 4


Meat, poultry, egg, cheese, bread and by-products, french fries, vinaigrette, ice cream, cake


Category 4


High energy density

To be limited to

4 à 9


Savoury and sweet biscuits, croissant, doughnut, cereal bar, oilseed puree, bacon, chocolate, biscuit, nuts and other oilseeds, butter, oil, margarine


Examples from The Volumetrics Eating Plan

One week dietary program

MorningPlain yoghurtFruit30

g oatmeal muesli

Oatmeal muesli with raisins and soy milkWholemeal bread toast with low-fat cheese
Almond milk and red fruit puddingOmeletteToast of
wholemeal breadFruit
NoonComplete chicken wrap
Grilled vegetable saladApple
White fish papillote
Vegetable JulienneRice,
Rice salad with tomatoes and hard-boiled eggsCompote
with no added sugar
Frozen tomato

soupFalafelsBulgur salad

Caesar salad with chicken and yoghurt and lemon
SnackFruitPlain yoghurtVanilla soy milk with vanilla
EveningWhole wheat pasta, vegetables and minced
meatCheese piece1
square of dark chocolate
Shrimp wok with beans and cashew nuts1
square of dark chocolate
Italian tomato, ham and bean soupFruitVegetable curry and tofu with coconut milk
potatoSeasonal fruit
Soya steakPoled
vegetables and
with fruit

Advantages and disadvantages

The positive points of the low energy density diet

  • Satiety
  • Well-being
  • Easy to follow
  • Compatible with a social life
  • Demonstrated weight loss

The negative points of the regime

  • Low intake of good fats that can be harmful in the long term
  • Some dishes lose their fat-free flavour
  • Possible frustration
  • Possible weight regain when the regime is stopped in the absence of a stabilization phase
  • Need to calculate calories

Recommendations and precautions to be taken

Are there any risks?

Despite the effectiveness of a low energy density diet for weight loss, it can be risky. If it is poorly managed in the long term, it can induce a lack of good fats that can have serious consequences. Also, when it requires calories to be calculated, it can cause obsessive behaviour in the most vulnerable people.

Is this a diet for you?

The low energy density diet may be right for you if you already have a good knowledge of nutrition and are looking for a way to lose weight quickly while maintaining your lifestyle. Note, however, that this is a regime that requires rigour to ensure that good results are maintained over time.

Is it a diet compatible with sport?

Yes, the author emphasizes the importance of physical activity. She encourages the use of the pedometer and gives various tips to increase the number of steps to be taken in a day.

How can I not gain weight?

To avoid gaining weight after the diet, it is recommended to continue to monitor your diet by eating a significant amount of vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. If the diet is too restrictive it may lead to an immediate weight gain as soon as a normal diet is restored. For this reason, it is necessary to remain attentive to the body and not to reduce its caloric intake too quickly. A stabilization phase with one day of low energy density per week can be a good way to maintain good eating habits and not regain weight too quickly.

A few figures to go further

A study published in 2007 clearly demonstrated that the energy density of food is directly related to obesity and metabolic syndrome. Other researchers have also linked high energy density diet to high body mass index (see our What is your body mass index? test) in various ethnic groups and children. In yet another study, reducing meal portions and energy density helped to lower energy intake. Significantly, the reduction in energy density had a greater impact than the reduction in portion sizes. It was also observed that eating a low energy density salad as a starter resulted in a reduction in total calorie consumption of 7% to 12% (depending on the portion of salad). In contrast, a higher energy density salad, such as a pasta salad, increased total calorie consumption by 8% to 17%. It does not matter if, before eating their meal, the subjects knew the energy density or not, the caloric intake did not fluctuate.

Also read: 7 foods to gain weight