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Calorie Density & Weight Loss: Fill 'er Up!

Calorie Density & Weight Loss: Fill 'er Up!

Chef Jeff's Weekly Health Update July 19, 1999

Towards the end of last year, I discussed the concept of calorie density in the weekly health update "The Secret to Successful Weight Loss: Calories? Fat? or Calorie Density?" (December 21, 1998). We looked at how the most important factor in weight loss was not calories, fat, or portion control, but calorie density. Understanding calorie density is an important issue in achieving and maintaining optimal health and weight.

Recently, a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1999;69:863-871) further showed how important this concept is to achieve long-term success in weight control.

Previously, researchers always believed that fat played a role in feelings of satiety or fullness, but the new study suggests that low food 'energy density' is the key, according to a team of nutritionists at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. The researchers found that adding more fruits, vegetables, water, or fiber to your low-fat fare may help you

feel full even as you cut down on calories and fat in your diet.

In the new study, 17 obese and 17 lean women ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a laboratory 4 days a week for 5 weeks. For the first 2 weeks, participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted from the foods served. During the next 3 weeks, however, participants were served a special meal that contained half the calories of their usual intake. One week the meals were low-fat, low-energy density meals, another week they were low-fat, high-energy density. On the third week, the meals were high-fat, high-energy density.

Low-energy density meals tend to have fewer calories per ounce and contain more fruits, vegetables, and grains than high-energy density meals (about a third more food than the other versions). After finishing the meal, women could help themselves to a variety of side dishes.

When women consumed the low-fat, low-energy density meals, they tended to eat less of the side dishes because they felt full and satisfied after the meal, the investigators report.

Overall, women consumed 16% fewer calories, while consuming ~33% more food, during the week that they consumed low-fat, low-energy density meals. Variations in energy density, not

fat, affected women's appetites, the investigators found.

In a written statement, lead researcher Dr. Barbara Rolls said that following normal eating habits but modifying recipes to reduce energy density is a good idea. For example, include extra tomatoes on a pita pizza, instead of more cheese. Or, she suggested, add more vegetables like mushrooms or celery to chili.

'People on diets often substitute pretzels for high fat, high-calorie snacks. But pretzels have a low-water content and don't fill you up, so you eat more of them,' Rolls noted. 'A snack with higher water and fiber content, for example, an apple, would be a better choice.'


Calorie density may be the most important factor in weight loss. If you replace the high fat foods with low-fat hi-calorie dense foods, you may still take in too many calories. The highest calorie dense foods next to fats are refined, processed carbohydrates.

The secret to successful long-term weight loss is to focus your diet on low calorie density foods. These foods will allow you to eat more food, eat more often, feel more satisfied, avoid feeling hungry, AND take in less calories. The problem with most diets is that they are too restrictive, too limiting, too controlled, and often leave you hungry. Understanding this concept may be the missing link that many of you need in reaching your health and weight goals. By choosing low calorie density foods you can liberalize the amount of food you eat, how often you eat, not have to count calories, AND still lose weight.

The above mentioned study once again proves this. The subjects in these studies were able to switch to a low-fat diet and eat as much as they like (about 33% more food than the other group) and still decrease their calorie intake by 16%. They consumed low fat foods that were also low in calorie density (fresh fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, and whole grains).

This IS the secret to long term successful weight loss.

What foods are the lowest in calorie density?

- Vegetables are the lowest in calorie density averaging 150 calories/lb.

- Fruits are next, averaging ~300 calories/lb

- Unrefined, unprocessed complex carbohydrates and starchy vegetables are next averaging 500 calories/LB.

However, refined processed carbohydrates (even the low-fat ones) average about 1500 calories/lb. This is very high in calorie density.

So, for this week’s health tip........

Focus the majority (or all) of your diet on the foods that are low in calorie density (vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole unprocessed grains) and you will be practicing the secret to long term successful weight loss.

Have another great week, and remember...

Your Health Is Your Greatest Wealth!

In Health,

Chef Jeff


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