Ski Tour logo


Caloric Content of Foods

This essay is a simple analysis of the caloric content of foods. The purpose is to highlight how one can maximize caloric content while minimizing weight. Surprisingly what you are going to find is that the range for most foods is small; within them there is only about a 10% variation in calories per unit weight. This is true even in foods that you think should be high in calories, e.g. pure sugar. Please be aware that the analysis does not consider good nutrition!

The consistency in the calories per unit weight (calories/oz in this essay) for a vast array of foods is surprising at first glance. A little thought is all that is needed to understand why.

Sugar at 109 cal/oz is a good reference for comparison

Consider sugar (white granulated) as a reference. It contains 109 cal/oz. Now consider flour which has 103 cal/oz. Not much difference. The reason is that flour is a long-chain carbohydrate or two sugar molecules. So it makes sense that sugar and flour (collectively carbohydrates) have about the same caloric content.

Item
Calories
Weight (grams)
Calories per oz
Notes
Reference foods
 
Sugar, white granulated
46
12
109
 
Flour
499
137
103
 
 
Basic foods
 
Quaker oatmeal, maple and brown sugar
160
43
106
 
Quaker oatmeal, apples and cinnamon
130
35
105
 
Quaker oatmeal, cinnamon roll
160
43
106
 
Quaker oatmeal, regular
100
28
101
 
 
Nature Valley fruit and nut granola bar
140
35
114
This bar is moist compared to some.
Nature Valley oats and honey granola bar
160
42
108
This bar is dry compared to some.
Quaker chocolate chip granola bar
100
24
118
 
Quaker peanut butter and chocolate chip granola bar
100
24
118
 
Quaker oatmeal and raisin granola bar
90
24
106
 
Power Bar
230
65
100
 
 
Hot chocolate
80
20
114
 
 
Most dehydrated dinners
105-115
If you pick and choose carefully you can get slightly higher (see following entries)
Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce
620
136
129
Tastes good too!
Mountain House Stroganoff with Noodles
620
136
129
 
 
Ramen soup
400
86
132
Noodles cooked in oil.
Cup-a-Soup, Chicken Noodle
45
13
98
 
Cup-a-Soup, Green Pea
80
21
108
 
Cup-a-Soup, Cream of Chicken
70
20
99
 
 
 
Apricots, dried but very moist
100
40
71
Suspect that if well dried the result would be about 100 cal/oz.
Mangos, dried, Costco
160
42
108
 
Raisins
130
40
92
Some moisture
 
Water crackers
60
15
114
 
Italian dried salami
110
28
111
Surprised it not higher!
Gouda cheese
110
28
111
Chosen because it withstands heat better than most cheeses. Surprised it's not higher!
 
High fat/oil foods
 
Hershey special dark chocolate
221
41
153
Unlike M&Ms, it melts in your pack. Suspect close to same values for M&Ms.
Kirkland (Costco) GORP
160
30
151
High due to oil roasted nuts and M&Ms.
Trader Joe's Sesame Sticks
170
30
161
Very oily
Macadamia nuts
210
28
213
Eat them and you'll taste the calories!
Chashew nuts, oil roasted
180
30
170
 
Almonds, oil roasted
176
28
178
 
Organics Old Fashioned Creamy Peanut Butter
200
32
177
Sure beats salami and cheese!
Butter
108
15
204
 
Olive oil
119
14
241
The winner!

Most of your "basic foods" fall between 100 and 120 cal/oz

Now take a look at the list of “basic foods” in the table above. You will notice that the variation in caloric content of these items is not great, say 110 cal/oz plus or minus 10 percent. You will notice a few exceptions. For example, Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce and Stroganoff with Noodles have greater caloric content. I suspect that these meals contain more oil than say Mountain House chicken and pork meals. I also noticed that Mountain House rice meals had slightly less caloric content than noodle dishes. I don't know why this is true, but clearly Ramen has a high caloric content because the noodles are cooked in oil.

Fats and oils are the only way to increase caloric content

From the above it is clear that the only way to significantly increase the caloric content of a meal above the 100 to 120 cal/oz range is to add fats and oil. Look at the “high fat/oil foods” to see why this is true. All these foods contain significant amounts of oil, e.g. nuts and peanut butter. And olive oil is a whopping 241 cal/oz. That’s even significantly higher than butter!

Calorie versus weight calculations reveal the hidden truth

It is really interesting to do some gross weight and calorie calculations. I'm 5' 8" and 160 lbs, I know if I eat 16 oz of food per day I will have enough to get me through hard skiing day-after-day for a week. Typically I bring about 18 oz per day and I know that I will never finish 20 oz per day.

The table below shows the affect of average caloric content on total calories per day. It’s almost shocking to see that a standard bill-of-fare, including carbohydrates and sweet foods that you might think are higher in calories per unit weight but are not, will only provide you 1760 to 2200 cal/day (assuming 110 cal/oz). That’s a lot less than you are burning while carrying a pack and skiing, but if you are like me you will not feel hungry – at least on a 7-day ski tour.

Total weight of food per day
16 oz
18 oz
20 oz
Average caloric content of food
(calories/oz)
110
1760
1980
2200
130
2080
2340
2600
150
2400
2700
3000

Make sure that you have lots of nuts and M&Ms during the day, and pick your dinner food carefully and spike it with oil, and you can jack the average caloric content up to 130 cal/oz and this will provide you 2080 to 2600 cal/day.  That’s getting a little better.

Add olive oil to your meals for extra calories

The only way to approach 3000 cal/day while limiting total weight to 20 oz/day is to go very heavy on nuts or nut butters, especially macadamia, and add oil to everything you can, e.g. soup and main courses. Consider having soup and a small dinner meal at breakfast because these are conducive to adding oil.

You're going to loose weight!

The bottom line is that you will probably loose weight on a multi-day ski tour. On a 6-day tour from North Lake near Bishop to Rock Creek south of Mammoth in May 2008 I lost 3 or 4 pounds, but I was never hungry.

A funny thing happened while skiing on the Ruth Glacier!

In 1980 I was skiing with friends in Alaska on the Ruth Glacier where we met two guys who were spending a month climbing peaks. They would make a basecamp on the glacier near their objective and leave their extra gear here including most of their food. The food they did carry was almost entirely peanut butter. The hilarious point in the meeting was when they opened a 5-gallon bucket, produced a large spoon and asked if we wanted any peanut butter. The bucket was still about 1/3 full and they were being flown out so they didn't’t need what remained.

I hope that you find this analysis enlightening

Marcus Libkind .

Our Sponsors

Western Mountaineering logo

Sorensen's Resort logo

Rock Creek Lodge logo

Lost Trail Lodge logo