al., 2004a), and it may have a significant influence on regulating food intake and body weight as well (Drewnowski, 2003; Prentice and Jebb, 2003).
High-energy-dense foods, such as potato chips and sweets, tend to be palatable but may not be satiating for consumers, calorie for calorie, thereby encouraging greater food consumption (Drewnowski, 1998; Prentice and Jebb, 2003). Humans may have a weak innate ability to recognize foods with a high energy density to down-regulate the amount of food consumed in order to maintain energy balance, thereby fostering a “passive overconsumption” of these types of foods (Prentice and Jebb, 2003). By contrast, low-energy-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain more fiber and water and less fat than high-energy-dense foods. As a result, they promote satiety and reduce energy intake but may be considered less palatable by some individuals (Drewnowski, 1998; Rolls et al., 2004b). Consumers typically ingest fewer calories when meals are low in energy density than high in energy density (Kral et al., 2002; Rolls et al., 2004b). There is a need for further research on the implications of dietary energy density on the short-term and long-term physiological regulation of satiety, and the role of energy density in total energy intake and achieving a healthy body weight.
An analysis of the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and NHANES III data revealed that three food groups—sweets and desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages—comprised nearly 25 percent of all calories consumed by Americans between 1988 and 2000. Salty snacks and fruit-flavored beverages accounted for another 5 percent, bringing the total calories contributed by high-energy-dense/low-nutrient-dense foods to be at least 30 percent of Americans’ total calorie intake during that period (Block, 2004). Nutrient composition data available from fast food company websites suggest that average menus are twice the energy density of recommended healthful diets (Prentice and Jebb, 2003).
Developing low-energy-dense but palatable food products, which will help consumers achieve and maintain energy balance by reducing the probability of excessive energy consumption, has been a significant challenge for the food industry (Drewnowski, 1998). While acknowledging this challenge, the committee emphasizes the need to identify specific incentives that will help the industry develop such new products. In the meantime, manufacturers can modify existing products—for example, by replacing fat with protein, fruit or vegetable purée, fiber, water, or even air—to reduce energy density but maintain palatability without substantially reducing the product size or volume.