Choosing foods that are less concentrated with calories — meaning you get a larger portion size with a fewer number of calories — can help you lose weight and control your hunger.
Feel full on fewer calories. It sounds like a diet gimmick. But in reality, the concept of energy density can indeed help you feel satisfied with fewer calories. In fact, well planned weight-loss diets, such as The Mayo Clinic Diet, use this concept to help you lose weight and keep it off long term.
Energy density: Volume versus calories
All foods have a certain number of calories within a given amount (volume). Some foods, such as desserts, candies and processed foods, are high in energy density. This means that a small volume of that food has a large number of calories.
Alternatively, some foods — such as vegetables and fruits — have low energy density. These foods provide a larger portion size with a fewer number of calories.
Three factors play an important role in what makes food less calorie packed and more filling:
* Water. Many fruits and vegetables are high in water, which provides volume but not calories. Grapefruit, for example, is about 90 percent water and has just 38 calories in a half-fruit serving. Carrots are about 88 percent water and have only 52 calories in 1 cup.
* Fibre. High-fibre foods — such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains — not only provide volume, but also take longer to digest, making you feel full longer.
* Fat. Most fruits and vegetables do not contain a lot of fat. Fat raises energy density. One teaspoon of butter contains almost the same number of calories as 2 cups of raw broccoli.
Your best food choices
Changing lifestyle habits is never easy, and creating an eating plan using this concept is no exception. The first step is knowing which foods to choose.
* Vegetables. Most vegetables — salad greens, asparagus, green beans, broccoli and zucchini, for example — are low in calories but high in volume.
* Fruits. Practically all types of fruit fit into a healthy diet. But some fruits are better choices than others are. Whole fresh, frozen and canned fruits without added sugar are better options than fruit juices and dried fruits, which are concentrated sources of natural sugar and therefore have a higher calorie content.
* Carbohydrates. Most carbohydrates are either grains or made from grains, such as cereal, rice, bread and pasta. The best type is whole grains because they’re higher in fibre and other important nutrients. Examples include whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain cereal.
* Protein and dairy. These include food from both plant and animal sources. The best choices are foods that are high in protein but low in fat and calories, such as legumes (beans, peas and lentils, which are also good sources of fiber), fish, skinless white-meat poultry, fat-free dairy products and egg whites.
Eat sweets and high-fat foods in moderation because many of these foods are high in calories but low in volume.
Make it work for you
Starting a healthy diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains makes room in your diet for some of your favorite foods in small quantities: a piece of chocolate cake or a small scoop of ice cream, for example. When you’re not feeling desperately hungry and deprived, as you might on some diets, you can enjoy a small portion of dessert without guilt.
Here are ideas to make this eating plan work for you:
* Increase the ratio of fruits and vegetables in your meals. For example, add blueberries to your cereal in the morning. Or top your pasta with sauteed vegetables and tomato sauce. Decrease the meat portion on your plate and increase the serving size of vegetables.
* Experiment with new foods and combinations. Try mango or peach slices on whole-wheat toast with a little peanut butter and honey. Toss some mandarin orange and peach slices into a salad. You may find some new tastes you love that fit within your eating plan.
* Start with soup or salad. Begin lunch or dinner with a broth-based, vegetable-filled soup or a large salad with a small amount of low-fat or fat-free dressing. These foods take longer to eat and curb your hunger. Next, serve whole grains, an extra portion or two of vegetables, and a small serving of lean protein for your main course.
By eating larger portions of foods less packed with calories, you squelch those hunger pangs, take in fewer calories and feel better about your meal, which contributes to how satisfied you feel overall.