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Less Dense, More Filling: Another Approach to Weight Loss

Amy Campbell

July 30, 2007

What if you could eat as much as you want, feel full, be healthy, and lose weight? Would you believe that there’s an eating approach that might just be the solution to your weight loss woes? Of course, we know there are no magic bullets out there just yet, but this newer way of eating might just do the trick.

The whole concept of being able to eat a substantial amount of food and lose weight without feeling deprived is based on something called “energy density.” Forget the physics lessons—school’s still out. Suffice it to say that energy density has to do with the number of calories in a particular amount of food. Foods that have a high energy density are the high-calorie or high-fat foods. On the other hand, low-density foods have fewer calories because they usually contain more water, fiber, and/or air. These foods contain a lot of volume, and thus, are more filling. The end result? You can supposedly eat your fill of low-density foods and still shed pounds.

Barbara Rolls, a well-published and well-respected professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University, has developed an eating plan based on the concept of energy density; this plan is called The Volumetrics Eating Plan. Lest you think that “Volumetrics” or “energy-density” is some new-fangled, fad diet, you can take some comfort in the fact that researchers have studied energy density and have reported pretty positive results. In fact, a fairly new study done at Penn State, published in the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at 71 obese women ages 22–60. Those who ate a low-energy-density diet lost an average of 17 pounds compared to the 14 pounds lost by the women on a reduced-fat diet. This may not sound like such a big deal, but the women on the low-energy-density eating plan ate 25% more food than the low-fat group, and also reported feeling less hungry. So, while pretty much anyone can lose weight by cutting back on calories, how many people can truly say they didn’t feel the least bit hungry while doing so?

Interested in giving this approach a try? First, keep in mind that low energy density foods include those with a high water and a high fiber content. This means, of course, eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. Best choices from various food groups are as follows:

Vegetables: Salad greens, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, green beans—and any of the nonstarchy vegetables.

Fruit: Pretty much any kind of fruit fits the bill. However, limit fruits canned in syrup or juice, as well as dried fruits, due to their high sugar (and, therefore, calorie) content.

Starchy foods: Whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, and rice.

Protein foods: Beans, peas, and lentils; fish, skinless, white meat poultry, and egg whites.

Dairy foods: Fat-free milk and yogurt.

Some helpful hints:

  • Start off a meal with salad or broth-based soup; the water in these foods will help fill you up on fewer calories.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to each of your meals…and snacks.
  • Cut the fat; high-fat foods have a high energy density.
  • Satisfy your cravings. If you get a hankering for chocolate chip ice cream and sugar-free jello won’t do, go ahead and indulge. Just keep it to a spoonful or two.

Oh, and don’t forget to jump-start your physical activity regimen. Keeping food records helps you stay on course, too.

Is some of this sounding like common sense? It probably is. Dietitians have been preaching this way of eating for years. If you want to learn more about energy density, pick up a copy of The Volumetrics Eating Plan by Barbara Rolls. You’ll learn how to calculate the energy densities of foods and you’ll find recipes and meal suggestions. Or talk to your dietitian about energy density, and work with him or her to incorporate some of these concepts into your current eating plan while curbing hunger and keeping tabs on your blood glucose control at the same time.



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