Less Dense, More Filling: Another Approach to Weight Loss

By Amy Campbell | July 30, 2007 1:00 pm

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:

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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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.

Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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