A number of informal surveys, along with reports from the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic, suggest that many Americans have put on some extra pounds during the coronavirus pandemic. Long periods at home, closed gyms and around-the-clock stress have led to what many feel is inevitable weight gain, which has been termed the “quarantine 15” in social media comments and jokes.
For those to whom unwanted weight gain is anything but funny, dietary experts from the Mayo Clinic have designed the clinic’s Healthy Weight Pyramid, which is based on a concept called energy density. This principle holds that eating mostly energy-dense but low-calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables, allows people to eat a greater amount of food and feel more satisfied while also losing weight.
According to the clinic’s experts, three main factors play a role in what makes a food high or low in energy density:
• Water. In general, the more water a food contains, the lower its energy density. Fruits and vegetables generally have high water content, which provide volume and weight with few calories. Grapefruit and watermelon, for example, are both about 90% water – and a large grapefruit generally has less than 100 calories. Raw carrots and broccoli, also low-calorie foods, are about 85% water.
• Fiber. High-fiber foods not only provide volume but also take longer to digest, so you feel full longer on fewer calories. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains all contain fiber. Popcorn is one good example of a high-volume, low-calorie whole grain, with one cup of air-popped popcorn containing only about 30 calories.
• Fat. Fat is highest in energy density. Foods that contain fat naturally, such as dairy products and meats, or foods with added fats are also higher in calories. One small pat of butter, for example, contains almost the same number of calories as 2 cups of raw broccoli. Like fats, most sweets and many high-carbohydrate foods like bread and pasta are also higher in energy density.
While eating a more energy-dense diet involves putting veggies and fruits at the top of your grocery list, it doesn’t mean eliminating any foods, according to the Mayo Clinic. Keeping portion sizes of high-density foods small, and filling your plate mainly with low-density choices, is a healthy way to battle back against the quarantine 15.