High Density and Low Density Foods

Another important tool I teach my patients is to focus on food density, which is basically the number of calories per gram of food. Carbohydrates, protein and fat all have different densities:

  • Protein = 4.5 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrate = 4.5 calories per gram
  • Fat = 9 calories per gram

Since fat is a storage form of energy, it is denser than protein or carbohydrate and has twice as many calories per gram. This is very important in the food we choose on a daily basis. Let me give you some examples.


So many patients of mine have told me they snack on pretzels. This is understandable since they are marketed, and often recommended by health professionals, as low-fat snacks. Unfortunately, they are very dense calories since the water has been taken out and they are essentially dry calories. You can pack away a lot of calories in a small time with pretzels and not eat any fat at all. Combine this with the fact that they are so heavy in salt, and you can see why they are not on the PVC diet. Pretzels are considered a high density food. They contain over 4 calories per gram.

Cheese Puffs

Cheese puffs are one of the worst foods that you can ingest. Are you really surprised? Take a look at the nutritional information. According to one of the most popular brands on the market, almost 50 percent of their weight is fat. They are light in weight, yes, but they are very dense with respect to calories per gram.


Fruit is just the opposite. Most of the weight of fruit is from the water contained within them. Yes, they contain carbohydrate, but this is balanced by the fact that the great majority of weight from fruit is from the water contained within them. This brings their density down significantly, usually below 2 calories per gram. Fruit are low density foods.

As you can see, weight doesn’t necessarily determine a foods density. It’s a little more complicated than that. The Mayo Clinic website raises a great example of the difference between the food density of grapes and raisins. Where grapes have a very low density with 104 calories per cup, the same fruit in the form of a raisin raises the density to 434 calories per cup.

Always remember to think of food density in your choices. Look for foods that contain less than 4 calories per gram. You will be able to eat more volume of food if you choose this way.

One more point! The satiety factor of our stomach, which is what turns off our hunger, responds closely to the weight of the food we eat. Wouldn’t you rather eat something of low-density that will fill you up without giving you excess calories? Makes sense to me.

PVC Point

Focus on food density. Eat foods that have a food density less than 4.