From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
Fill-Up on Fewer Calories
For well over 30 years—since the publication of Ripped—I’ve been recommending eating foods that fill you up without giving you too many calories. The best way to do that is to emphasize vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and go easy on high-fat, sugary, and refined foods. Do that in a way that is satisfying—no food is forbidden—and you’ll lose weight and keep it off.
Penn State nutrition and obesity researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD, has made a science of that concept. She calls it Volumetrics.
I first wrote about Dr. Rolls’ research in 2000 when she published The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan (Our article # 45). Her breakthrough discovery was that people gauge their food intake by weight and volume, not calories. Think about that. It’s powerful. Chose foods with fewer calories per pound or bite and you’ll feel full on fewer calories.
Her latest findings are collected in The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet (William Morrow, 2012) written with registered dietician Mindy Hermann.
Her new book begins with a side-by-side comparison of a typical meal and a Volumetrics meal. The typical dinner consists of a small piece of fried chicken, a few steak fries, and a cup of regular soda with ice. That meal contains 500 calories. So does the Volumetrics meal—a bowl of mixed melons, baked chicken breast topped with seasonal tomatoes, lightly seasoned rice pilaf, baby arugula salad, and two cups of unsweetened iced tea. Even without the benefit of the color illustrations in the book, it’s easy to see which meal would be more filling and satisfying.
“Forget about just cutting the fat or carbohydrates, or cutting out whole food groups,” Dr. Rolls writes in introducing her new book. “The key to success is finding positive strategies that will lead to sustainable, healthy eating and activity patterns that fit your lifestyle.” (Rings true doesn’t it?)
Rolls and her students are constantly looking for ways to help people feel full without taking in more calories than they burn. They bring volunteers into their cooking lab every week to study eating behavior when they change portion size, calories, or nutrients. We’ll talk about some of their more transparent and helpful findings, some old and some new. We’ll start with a basic underpinning of volumetrics.
Water is the magic ingredient. Water lowers calorie density; it adds weight and volume but no calories. “Foods with a high water content help fill you up since water bulks up food, giving you bigger portions without more calories,” Professor Rolls explains.
Fat, by contrast, is calorie dense. The higher the fat content of food, the smaller the portion you get for your calories. That doesn’t mean you should eliminate all fat, however. “Volumetrics focuses on healthy fats and how to use just enough to give you delicious flavor along with fat’s nutritional benefits,” Rolls relates.
That’s a key point. Extreme diets don’t work. Fat makes food taste better. Some fat should be included in most meals.
The best way to add water is to include vegetables, fruits, or whole grains—all largely water—in most meals.
I show visiting clients that the mixed grains in our "Old Reliable" breakfast mixture are six parts grain and 18 parts water. It seems impossible that one cup of oat groats (or any other whole grain) can absorb three cups of water, but it happens in our grain cooker right before their eyes. If there’s a better way to illustrate the operating mechanism of Volumetrics, I’ve yet to see it.
Be aware that drinking water with meals doesn’t necessarily help to satisfy hunger. Hunger and thirst are regulated by different mechanisms, Rolls observes. It’s the calorie density of food that counts, not beverages.
Soft drinks are a problem, because they add calories without satisfying hunger. “Studies show that you will likely eat as much food when you have a soda as when you don’t,” Rolls reports. Water is almost always a better choice.
Serving size still matters. Professor Rolls sums it up in one sentence: “If you are like most people, you eat what you are served.” The bigger the portion, the more you are likely to eat. Nevertheless, if you eat more filling foods—vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—you’ll be satisfied with fewer calories.
Dr. Rolls has found that most people don’t notice larger portions. They are more likely to spot smaller portions.
Calorie density and portion size both matter, but calorie density matters more.
“Big portions of calorie-dense foods are the problem,” Rolls stresses. It’s hard to cut back on high-density foods. It works better to load up on bulky low-calorie foods. “If you lower the overall calorie density of your diet,” Rolls counsels, “you’ll have a full plate with satisfying portions.”
Eat more food, but fewer calories. That’s the formula that works best.
We serve client visitors using small bowls and small or medium size plates. We explain to them that people are satisfied eating less from small bowls and plates. Small eating utensils also help. (The Old Reliable takes a large bowl.)
Equally important, we counsel them to put on the table only what they plan to eat. Most people are satisfied after eating everything on the table. If they can see and reach more food, however, they are likely to eat more.
Volumetrics-style foods and reasonable portion sizes are the ticket to healthful eating. They fill you up and make you feel satisfied, without overshooting your calorie needs.
Build your meals around vegetables and fruits. Professor Rolls is quite aware that vegetables and fruits have a “less than stellar” reputation. Some diets discourage eating fruits because of their sugar content. And we’ve all heard vegetables called rabbit food. To the contrary, Rolls argues that both vegetables and fruits are essential for successful and healthy weight management. Vegetables and fruits add essential nutrients. The sweetness of fruits also adds all-important eating pleasure. “As for veggies,” Rolls writes, “what I recommend is vastly different from living on nothing but piles of lettuce.”
As we’ve already said numerous times, vegetables and fruits take up lots of room in your stomach without many calories. Vegetables and fruits are the “superstars” of nutrition—and the Volumetrics diet. The trick is to include them in a pleasant and satisfying way. How to do that is the question.
Rolls recommends three key strategies: add a course, bulk up your main course, and the stealth approach.
“When you begin your meal with a generous soup, salad, or vegetable or fruit first course with 100 to 150 calories, you take the edge off hunger, feel fuller, and enjoy a lower calorie-density alternative to typical high calorie-density appetizers,” Rolls writes persuasively. The calorie qualification is important. Go easy on the butter, dressing, and toppings.
Carol and I almost always start dinner out with a tossed salad; dressing on the side. Mixed fruit makes a delicious dessert. Many more “add a course” examples are included in Dr. Rolls’ book.
Salads can also be used as a veggie-rich main course. Add raw or grilled vegetables, beans, and nuts—or grilled chicken—and you have a satisfying main meal.
Other additions recommended by Rolls are lean beef, low-fat cottage cheese, tofu, chickpeas, and black beans.
Rolls also suggests many ways to turn your salad into a sandwich. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how. You’ll find many excellent examples in her book.
Rolls also suggests ways to incorporate vegetables into your entrée—piling them onto your pizza, for example—and including them in side dishes. “A consistent finding from a number of our studies shows that simply offering more vegetables and fruits encourages people to eat them, and the bigger the portions, the more they eat,” Rolls relates. Kids ate more applesauce when she doubled their portions—and those who like broccoli and carrots ate more when she served them more.
You can also sneak vegetables and fruits into meals. Rolls says they add big amounts of pureed vegetables onto places they won’t be noticed—and gets big results. She says this works for adults as well as kids. Doubling the usual amount of vegetables in carrot bread, macaroni and cheese, and chicken-rice casserole increased daily vegetable intake by 80 percent. “Adding veggies didn’t affect liking for foods or the amount eaten, and because the veggies reduced the calorie density, daily calorie intake went down by 360 calories,” Rolls writes.
That’s the overall plan: More vegetables and fruits mean fewer total calories.
Include whole grains in every meal. “People who eat the most whole grains tend to have lower BMIs and a smaller waist measurement, and they gain less weight during their adult years,” Rolls tells us. Ideally the whole grains should replace refined grains, where the fiber has been removed.
Like vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods are important to weight control. The fiber in whole grains is the key factor, but not for the reason you might think. There’s not enough fiber in whole grains to make a significant difference in calorie density. Whole grains cut calorie consumption in another way.
The fiber in whole grains augments fullness—three ways.
Foods with fiber require more chewing, which slows eating and boosts satiety. Fiber also slows the emptying of food from the stomach and slows absorption in the small intestine, making you feel full longer. Finally, fiber “bulks up” in the digestive system by absorbing water, which reduces hunger.
As noted earlier, whole grains can absorb three times their weight/volume in water while cooking. Again, that bulks up the grain, makes you chew more, and fills you up sooner.
Whole grains are just that—the whole kernel. It can be the whole kernel of brown rice, oats, wheat, barley, and many other grains. If you buy your grains in places like Whole Foods or Sprouts, you’ll be able to see the whole kernel. If your whole grains are in bread or other foods, “whole” should be the first ingredient on the label. Sprouted grains are also excellent.
Fiber, of course, comes in foods other than grains. “What I like about fiber is the company it keeps,” says Rolls. Foods rich in fiber are the foundation of the Volumetrics diet: vegetables, fruits, legumes—and whole grains.
Managing fat and sugar intake is another key aspect of Volumetric eating. Fat and sugar make food taste better, but can lead to overeating if not managed wisely. Fat and sugar are, of course, concentrated calories; they add calorie density. They make you fat but; like fire, they also keep you comfortable and happy.
Banning sugar and fat is not the answer, says Rolls. Eliminating something entirely makes you want it more. It’s human nature. “You won’t stick to a diet that forbids your favorite foods,” she advises. Fat and sugar should be consumed in modest amounts, while not adding unnecessary calories.
“Our studies show there is a secret weapon against fat,” Rolls writes. By now the secret is hardly a secret. She recommends including more vegetables and fruits in your diet to offset the fattening effects of fat; eating more veggies and fruit lowers overall calorie density and helps keep calories under control. “The key is to combine sensible portions of fat-containing foods that you enjoy with plenty of lower-CD foods….”
Focus on your total diet. You’ll be surprised how much you can cut fat without affecting satisfaction. “We cut fat by 20 to 30 percent without people noticing,” Rolls reports.
It’s important, of course, to select good fats—fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils—over unhealthy saturated and trans fats. The bad fats are generally found in meats, dairy products, and baked goods.
Sugar is different than fat in that it’s not an essential nutrient. Naturally sweet foods, such as fruits, can satisfy your sweet tooth. Nevertheless, Rolls says the best approach is to limit—not eliminate—foods and beverages with added sugars. If you have diabetes or insulin resistance, see your health care provider for guidance.
Carol and I use very little sugar or sugar sweetened foods or beverages, but it’s not off limits, especially on holidays and special occasions. I amuse the counter person at the ice cream shop from time to time by ordering a “thin” milk shake. They go wide eyed, but work hard to give me what I want. Vanilla is my favorite. I don’t tell them it’s Volumetrics at work.
We have barely scratched the surface of the research-based advice and meal planning suggestions found in the 396 pages of Barbara Rolls’ beautiful new book, The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet. I highly recommend it.
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