Have you tried a popular weight loss diet? Chances are the “eat less” approach left you feeling hungry and dissatisfied. While reduced calorie diets can result in short term weight loss they are usually restrictive and can be difficult to stay on. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight choose a healthy way of eating that you can stick with over the long term.
Dr. Barbara Rolls has been researching the relationship between food intake and feelings of hunger and fullness for decades. She noticed that her research participants tended to eat about the same amount of food each day. This observation led to a series of experiments on reducing the calorie density of meals.
Calorie density is the amount of calories (food energy) in a particular amount of food. This is usually measured in calories per gram and is determined by what the food is made up of. In general, water and fiber lower the calorie density of food and drinks, while alcohol and fat increase the calorie density.
Here is a listing of the calorie densities for the major parts that make up food:
- Water - 0 calories per gram
- Fibre - about 2 calories per gram
- Protein - 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrate - 4 calories per gram
- Alcohol - 7 calories per gram
- Fat - 9 calories per gram
So how could this knowledge impact your food choices? Imagine that its mid-afternoon and you are looking for something to snack on. You have oranges and potato chips to choose from. For the same amount of calories (about 80) you could eat one large orange or just 6 potato chips. Which option would leave you feeling more full and satisfied? Orange segments contain a lot of water and some fibre. Potato chips contain very little water and a lot of fat. The oranges give you a lot more food for the same calorie amount because oranges have a much lower calorie density than potato chips. Also, consider that it is easy to eat more than 6 potato chips but unlikely that you will eat more than one orange.
If you choose foods that contain higher amounts of water and fibre more often, you will be able to reduce your calorie intake while eating the same amount of food. This puts you in a position to maintain or reach a healthy weight.
Dr. Rolls and her research team found that they could reduce the caloric content of meals by about a third while keeping the volume of food the same. She has published several popular ‘Volumetrics’ weight loss books that provide readers with tips and recipes that lower the calorie density of meals. Try some of these tips at home and when eating out.
Lower the Calorie Density of Your Meals
1. Add more vegetables and fruit to your meals. They are high in water and fibre, both of which lower the calorie density of meals.
- Double the amount of veggies in your stir fry or casserole.
- Add pureed cauliflower or squash to macaroni and cheese, or pureed carrots or spinach to pasta sauce.
- Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
- Have fruit-based desserts.
2. Start meals with a small broth-based soup or leafy green salad. These foods are water-rich and will fill you up.
3. Prepare meals with less added fat and sugar. Added sugar and fat increase the calorie density of foods.
- Try having your coffee or tea either plain or with milk instead of having specialty drinks with added syrups and whipped cream.
- Use fruit to sweeten meals and desserts instead of added sugar.
- Cook and bake with less fat. For example, when baking, try adding pureed fruit or squash in place of half of the fat in muffin and loaf recipes.
4. Choose water-rich foods instead of dry foods. Dry foods like crackers and cookies have a higher calorie density than water-rich foods like fruit and vegetables. Fresh fruit will leave you feeling fuller than the equivalent amount of dried fruit.
5. Sub in vegetables at snack time. Try these ideas:
- Choose veggies and hummus instead of crackers and hummus.
- Spoon tuna salad on top of cucumber rounds instead of crackers.
- Spread nut butter on celery sticks instead of toast.
6. Choose water and other low-calorie drinks to satisfy your thirst. Drinks don’t fill us up the same way food does and it’s easy to gulp down a lot of additional calories with sugary drinks.
Reducing the calorie density of your meals is a healthy approach that aligns with the recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide. It will leave you feeling more satisfied and full while consuming fewer calories, a recipe for long term success at maintaining a healthy weight.