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Scientific breakthrough validates Ripped dietary philosophy


Avoid concentrated calories: Thatís my cardinal rule. For more than 20 years, Iíve recommended eating foods that fill you up without giving you too many calories. Whole foods the way they are grown, with nothing added or subtracted, do the job best; they taste good and they are generally not fattening. The best examples of foods that satisfy while keeping you lean are those high in fiber and water, such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

Weight of Food Is Key

Volumetrics (HarperCollins, 2000), a new book by Penn State nutrition and obesity researcher Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., has essentially the same message, but with an exciting new twist. Dr. Rolls and co-author Robert A. Barnett highlight an important discovery that makes the idea easier to understand and apply. "Over the course of a day or two," they have found, " a person eats about the same weight of food." Thatís important, say the authors, because it means: "If you maintain the usual volume of food you eat, yet lower the calories in each portion, youíll consume fewer calories and feel just as full."

The breakthrough research was done at Penn Stateís Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior. Under the supervision of Dr. Rolls, graduate student Elizabeth Bell over several days fed normal-weight women meals and snacks that varied in the number of calories contained per pound of food. In other words, the foods served varied in energy density, or calories per gram of food. Importantly, Bell made sure that all the food was equally tasty.

For example, on some days the women were served a pasta salad that had fewer vegetables and more pasta, making it more caloric by weight. (Pasta, of course, contains more calories than the same weight of vegetables.) On other days, she replaced some of the pasta with more chopped vegetables, to lower the calories density. Significantly, the women were allowed to eat all they wanted at each meal.

Many would have predicted that the women would simply adjust and eat more when vegetables were added.. But theyíd be wrong. "Whether we served them high-, medium-, or low-energy-density main dishes, each woman ate the same amount of food, about 3 pounds total for each day," Dr. Rolls reported . As a result, on the days when their food had fewer calories for its weight, the women ended up eating an average of 30 percent fewer calories.

"They felt just as full and satisfied," says Dr. Rolls, "but they were consuming about 400 fewer calories each day."

Avoid Extremes

Note that the researchers didnít ask the women to limit themselves to bulky, low-fat vegetables; they didnít try to eliminate the good tasting pasta. That would be a mistake, because extreme dietary measures donít work, at least not for long. "Not every food choice you make should be determined by energy density," says Dr. Rolls. "Forbid a food and you may crave it."

Itís all right, even wise, to include energy-dense foods such as chocolate in your diet from time to time. As I say in my books, back-sliding from time to time is okay. Itís the overall energy density of your diet that really counts. "By eating more meals and snacks that are lower in energy density," Rolls and Barnett write, "you can still enjoy reasonable portions of your favorite energy-dense foods while controlling calories."

To help you make intelligent food choices, Volumetrics includes an excellent chapter exploring the relative energy density of the five major components of food: fat, carbohydrate, protein, alcohol and water. Its well-known that fat contains more than twice as many calories as carbohydrate or protein, nine calories per gram compared to only four for carbs and protein. But the facts on alcohol and water, as explained by the authors, are not so well understood.

Alcohol Promotes Fat Storage

Alcohol is second only to fat in energy density. A gram of alcohol (ethanol) has seven calories. An ounce of pure alcohol has 200 calories, and mixed drinks often contain more. Those are the basics, but thereís more that you need to know.

"Our bodies metabolize alcohol in ways that enhance the likelihood that excess calories will wind up as fat," Rolls and Barnett write. From the standpoint of weight, thereís no problem if you donít exceed your energy needs. Alcoholic beverages combined with high-fat, high-calorie foods is what promotes weight gain. Thatís because the body gives preference to burning alcohol, which is a poison that canít be stored; it must be metabolize immediately. As a result, the other calories eaten are more likely to be deposited as fat.

Worse still, "calories from alcoholic beverages slink into your body without triggering satiety signals," the authors warn, "so we donít compensate by eating less." We often eat more than we would normally, because alcohol lowers our inhibitions against overeating. Iíve found that to be true in my case; a cocktail tends to prime my appetite. I rarely drink, because I know Iíll probably eat more than I really want if I do.

The Facts on Water

It may surprise you to know that the facts on water are even more important to weight control. Water, of course, has weight but no calories; its energy density is zero. To lower the calorie-to-weight ratio of your diet, youíll want to eat plenty of water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, as well as dishes that include water, such as cooked grains, soups and stews. Weíll return to this point momentarily, after clearing up a common misconception.

Hunger and thirst are controlled by different mechanisms. Dr. Rolls says studies show that "simply drinking water with a meal wonít help you eat less at the meal, or at the next one." Water satisfies thirst, but not hunger. Water is the best choice when youíre thirsty, not sugary soft drinks.

Rolls says, "Skip sports drinks." They are highly caloric, but more importantly, the body responds to sugary drinks as thirst quenchers. When we consume a sports drink or other sugar-filled beverage, we eat just as much as we would otherwise.

Water Matters More Than Fat

Now, letís return to the critical role of water in food. In terms of calorie density and weight control, water matters even more than fat. Volumetrics illustrates the point by giving some examples which show that adding water makes far more difference them reducing fat. Letís look at one example.

First, the authors ask us to compare a chocolate bar to a glass of chocolate milk. Both are high in fat, but chocolate milk contains much more water. For about the same number of calories (250), you can have five times more chocolate milk (8 ounces compared to only 1.5 ounces of chocolate bar). In other words, you can have 500 percent more chocolate if you have it in the form of water-rich chocolate milk. Now, look at what happens if you reduce the fat by switching to chocolate milk made with low-fat (1 percent) milk. By doing that, you lower the calories to about 158, a reduction of only 37 percent.

As you can see, adding water made far more difference than reducing fat. Adding water increased volume five fold, with no change in calories; whereas cutting fat only reduced calories by a little over one-third. Thatís a big difference, 500 percent compared to only 37.

Itís important to moderate your fat intake, of course, since it packs so many calories into a portion. But adding water-rich foods allows you eat more for the same number of calories, or you can eat your usual portions, take in fewer calories Ė and lose weight. As the authors say, the Volumetrics approach is "a lot more fun than trying to squeeze the fat out of every food you put in your mouth."

To learn more about the no-hunger way of eating for leanness, read my books (see our products page) Ė and Volumetrics, which retails for $24.  We do not carry Volumetrics but it can be purchased from  Amazon.com.

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