Nutrients with the Highest Energy Density

Fat trumps other nutrients in energy density.

Fat trumps other nutrients in energy density.

Whether you seek them for weight gain or need to add them to your no-no list for weight loss, it's wise to learn which foods are densest in energy. Energy density refers to calories per unit of weight. At nine calories per gram, fat has the highest energy density; protein and carbs have just four calories per gram. Alcohol has seven calories per gram, but it's not considered a nutrient, which means that beer is little more than empty calories.


High energy density gives fat a bad rap, but you do need this nutrient in certain amounts. Fat provides energy, helps support mental function and allows you to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. Saturated fats, however, contribute to dangerous cholesterol levels as well as increased diabetes risk. Monunsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthier fats and have benefits for your cardiovascular system. Saturated fats are found in meats and butter, while unsaturated fats are found in plant products such as olive oil, nuts and avocados. Thirty percent of your calories should come from fat, and saturated fats should provide less than 10 percent of total daily calories.


Protein is used in every cell of your body, and you need the stuff for healthy muscles and skin. Protein is made up of amino acids, and your body needs 20 types of these to function. You make 11 on your own, but nine amino acids are essential, meaning you must get them from food. Animal products contain all essential amino acids, as do soy beans. However, most plant foods don't. Combining complementary plant-based proteins such as rice and beans will allow you to meet amino acid needs. About 10 to 35 percent of your total daily calories should be protein; 46 grams per day is sufficient for most women.


You need more carbs than any other macronutrient, so get 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories from them. That's 180 to 260 grams in a 1,600-calorie diet. Get carbs from whole sources, which provide more nutrients than processed foods. Choose fruits and vegetables, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and corn tortillas. Some carbohydrate-rich foods also provide protein, such as milk and legumes.

Energy and Weight

Energy affects your weight in a big way, and the best method for gaining or losing body fat is to monitor your calorie intake. Eating 3,500 calories without burning them off will cause a pound of weight gain. A quick yet rough way to learn how much energy you burn is to multiply your body weight in pounds by 15. So a 130-pound woman uses approximately 1,950 calories per day with normal activity. Excess body fat and low activity levels throw off the formula though, so you will need fewer calories every day under these conditions.

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About the Author

Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by,, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.

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