One of the hardest parts of dieting and losing weight is managing hunger. Eventually, all of us lose our resolve to eat healthfully and want to give in to our appetite—because we are starving!
I know firsthand how hard it is to overcome a voracious appetite, because I pretty much have to outwit mine on a daily basis.
I also hear this complaint from my clients day in and day out, and I give them this advice: Stick with unlimited fruits, vegetables, and at least three servings a day of whole grains, which help keep us fuller on fewer calories. Now, a series of articles in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition backs up what I’ve been recommending for years.
The studies focus on women’s weight changes over several years, and on a scientific term called "energy density." Energy density is the calories divided by the weight of the food; foods with low energy density tend to be those that are heavy, or dense, but not high in calories.
How to eat big and lose
If you want to determine the energy density of the foods and beverages you’re consuming, here’s an easy way to calculate energy density based on the product label: Start by comparing the serving-size weight in grams to the calories.
- If calories are lower than the gram weight, the food is low in energy density.
- If the calories are equal to—or twice as much as—the grams, eat moderately and watch your portion size.
- If the calories are more than three times the gram weight, steer clear!
Why energy density matters
Higher energy-density diets are not only high in calories, but research shows that they're also the highest in unhealthy saturated and trans fats, and refined carbohydrates. They also contain the least amounts of fruit and vegetables. This month's AJCN reports that an increase in dietary energy density over one eight-year study period found a 14-pound weight gain among women eating the most energy-dense foods.
Another study by Penn State University researchers found that over a six-year study period, women eating a low energy-density diet gained about five pounds over six years, while those eating the higher energy-density diet gained 14 pounds—nearly three times as much weight!
Reading labels and comparing weight to calories is the best way to get a grip on your diet's energy density. But for starters, here are also some general guidelines.
Smart, filling food picks (lowest in energy density)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Broth-based soups
- Brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain bread and pasta
- Water-rich foods
More calories, less filling (highest in energy density)
- Crackers and pretzels
- Vegetable oils
- Fried foods
- Most sweets and desserts