Calorie Density and How It Can Help You to Release Excess Weight & Feel Better, Part II
This is the second article on calorie density where we’re going to take a closer look at calorie density and weight loss connection. The first article in this series can be found here.
Now let’s talk about satiety. It comes from the same root word as ‘satisfaction’ and ‘satiation’. Satiety is a physical feeling of being full and satisfied. There some other factors that contribute to satiety, like psychological, for instance, but we’re going to talk about physical aspect of it.
Satiety is the opposite of hunger. It’s that warm feeling you get after having a big meal. Satiety is a powerful built-in survival mechanism. Now, the problem with a lot of diets and approaches to eating is, that they limit the amount of food you can eat, which stimulates hunger. Hunger, however, is a powerful innate survival mechanism, you just can’t beat it. If you ever tried to defeat hunger with willpower, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. It doesn’t work very well: maybe a few hours, maybe a day or two, and then you eat everything you can find in your house.
And then they’ll come out with different diets and different pills, and tell you that these diets will work, because they’ll stop you from being hungry, because they have more protein or fat, or they have certain ratios of macronutrients. Or they’ll give you supplements to help fighting hunger, but hunger is NOT the problem. It’s like your desire to drink water or breathe air. The problem is, we’ve changed the food supply, and what it is we can satisfy our hunger with.
Equal calorie foods don’t represent equal satiety. And here are a few examples of different foods that have the same amount of calories (about 100 calories). Just stop for a minute and think about which food will fill you up more.
2 Soy Chicken Nuggets and 1 ¼ Cup Vegetable Lentil Soup
What is there about Vegetable Lentil Soup that will fill you up more? Volume, of course.
It turns out that this is very true. They actually did the studies where they fed people equal calories of different foods to see which one was the most filling. And they found out that all foods that would fill you up the most have three things in common.
1. High in water.
This makes a lot of sense, because water takes up a lot of space, and filling up the space in the stomach actually contributes to satiety. Interestingly enough, we have the little nerves called stretch receptors on the outside of the stomach. And when you fill the stomach up, they stretch a little and send signals to the brain, which helps release all those chemicals telling you you’re full. So, water is very important. Water also has a lot of weight which helps give that stretch.
2. High in fiber.
Fiber doesn’t make sense when you think about it like water does, because fiber doesn’t take up a lot of space and doesn’t have a lot of volume. But when you mix a lot of water with a lot of fiber you get something called bulk. And it turned out that bulk was the biggest contributor to your feeling full.
3. High in nutrients.
Nutrients do play a role too. You do have these nutrient receptors, and nutrients are important. But it turns out that nutrients are not the most important.
So, when they tell you to eat a diet high in protein or high in fat, because that will fill you up the most, it’s not true. If we take two foods with the same amount of protein in them, the one that will fill you up the most would be the one with the most bulk. So, it is not just a protein or fat.
The Calorie Density/Satiety Connection
So, here is what they did in the studies. They did all these studies, they looked at all these foods, and this is what they found out. The foods that are really bulky have a very low calorie density. And you know why? Because they have a lot of water, and water has a lot of weight, and no calories. So, it has all this weight with no calories, therefore the calorie density is very low.
But they also found out that those foods are very filling, because they are bulky and they create the stretch.
Factors that lower calorie density and increase satiety:
- High water content
- High fiber content
- Bulk (volume)
By the way, boiled potato was one of the most filling foods tested. They almost could not overeat on them.
Now, here is something else. What if you take this same potato and put a little oil on it. The calories would go way up, but it won’t fill you up anymore. So, when you add fat, calorie density goes way up, and satiety doesn’t really change (but per calorie it actually goes down).
So, what they found out is, if you add fat, white flour or white sugar to food the calorie density goes up, but you don’t get any fuller.
Factors that increase calorie density and lower satiety:
- High fat content
- High sugar content
- High refined CC content
So, let me sum up the last twenty years of research.
Bulky foods fill you up for a few calories. Foods that are high in fat, sugar and white flour do the opposite.
They also did a study in the United States and looked at what people ate. They looked at the percentage of fat and the calorie density. And there is a significant difference: as the percentage of fat went up in their diet, the calorie density went up, and the amount of calories they consumed went up (Obesity. Volume 16. Number 1, January 2007).
So, forget about all the other stuff you hear about fat. You want a great reason to limit the amount of fat? It limits the calorie density, which decreases your chances of overeating.
Here are a few examples of different foods that have the same amount of calories, but different calorie density.
1 cup Cashews and 6 small baked potatoes
The potatoes will fill you up more, because they have bulk. Cashews are high in fat (75% fat), and potatoes are low in fat (1% fat), so is fat filling? Not at all. This doesn’t necessarily make cashews fattening if you had only a few. But the problem is, nobody does that.
2 low-fat Fig Newman’s and 1 small Cantaloupe
The Cantaloupe will fill you up more, because it has more bulk. In 1980s you probably heard that you should go on a low-fat diet. So, you go to the supermarket or a health food store, and you find all these low-fat foods like Fig Newman’s and you fill up on those. Do you see the problem? If you eat all you want, your caloric intake will be too high. And if you eat just the right amount of calories, you’ll be hungry all day long. Is this going to happen with Cantaloupe? Just for the record, the percentage of fat/carb/protein is almost identical in these two foods. They almost have the same ratio. So, is it the ratio, or amount of fat/carb/protein that fills you up? No, it’s the bulk.
2 lbs fresh Pineapple and 4 oz Gummy Bears
It’s obvious that pineapple will fill you up more.
Side Note: Everybody is anti-sugar these days. “You can’t have sugar, sugar is no good, cannot have carbs…” And this is crazy, because sugar is good for you. What is the best fuel for our bodies? Glucose, which is a fancy name for sugar. Our bodies will also burn another fuel which is fat. So, sugar and fat are two fuels that our body likes to burn (sugar is preferred). Every now and then you hear somebody says, “Oh, I need some energy, I got to get some protein!” Just realize when somebody tells you that, they just told you they know nothing about physiology and biochemistry. Because this is not what your body wants to use for energy, and in fact, it’s a difficult process. Your body uses carbs first, and secondary fat. So, when you exercise, your muscles burn up some carb, and they also burn up some fat. But there are parts of your body that cannot burn fat, and can only burn glucose. It’s the brain. The brain needs sugar every day. They’ve actually done studies, and there is recommended minimal intake of sugar just to fuel the brain. It’s 500 calories a day just to fuel the average brain.
So, sugar is not the problem, the package is the problem. Both these foods have the same amount of sugar and the same amount of calories, but they are not equal. 90% of the weight and volume of the pineapple is water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, nutrients in a great package, great matrix, just right for you. So, don’t be afraid of sugar, just get it in its whole natural form.
So, let’s look at it a little differently. Let’s say you were going to eat 1600 calories a day. Let’s look at three different levels of calorie density based on typical food choices and see how much food you’ll get. If you were at a lower calorie density of 635 calories per pound and you ate 1600 calories, you’ll get 2.5 pounds of food. If you are at a higher calorie density of 820, you’ll get just over 2 pounds (2.1 pounds). If you are at a 1000 calories per pound you’ll only get 1.7 pounds. This is 35% less food if we increase our calorie density. Do you see where we are going with this? See how we can eat more and weigh less? (Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 83 (6): 1362-1368).
So, let’s sum it up and give you some principles.
To make things simple we can average out some food groups, thus you don’t have to know every food like grapes, bananas or celery. You just have to know the food group, and there are only a couple you got to know.
So, here it is:
- Vegetables on average are 100 calories a pound (some go down as low as 70, some as high as 200)
- Fruits average around 250
- Unrefined carbohydrates (potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal) are around 500
- Beans & Legumes average around 600
- Fatty protein like steak is around 1000 (leaner cuts might be less)
- Refined carbohydrates (bread, dry cereal, crackers, even if they are whole grain) are 1200-1400
- Junk food (Oreos, cookies, etc) are 2300
- Nuts & Seeds average 2800
- Oil/fat is 4000
So, here is what they did. They did these studies on calorie density, and instead of putting people on a certain low-fat diet or a calorie control diet, they decided to feed people what’s called ad libitum. That’s a fancy scientific word for eating all you want at a buffet throughout the day. There are only two things that you’re told: whenever you’re hungry, eat until you’re comfortable full; don’t stuff yourself, don’t starve yourself (get rid of hunger).
The difference was this: one group only got to eat foods low in calorie density, and the other group – high in calorie density. And here is what happened. The people who got to eat food low in CD took in way less calories and lost weight. Those who ate all they want of high CD food – they took in way more calories and gained weight (Stubbs et al. NY Acad Sci 1997; 819-44).
As I said, there is over 50 of these studies done now specifically on this, and probably over a 100 on the principal. And whether they do it for one meal, one day, one week, six months or a year, when you learn the principles of calorie density, and you compare it to a portion control or calorie control, low-fat diets, guess which wins every time? Calorie density, because they get to eat all they want and don’t go hungry. They just have to learn which foods (Stubbs RJ, et al. Int J Obesity 1998; 22: 885-92).
So, this is what they found out in these studies.
Pretty much if the food was 400 calories per pound or less, no matter how much you ate of it, your weight would go down even if you were a couch potato. Eat all you want and lose weight.
Between 400 and 800 calories per pound, you pretty much lost weight if you were not a couch potato and got some typical activity. This range was based on activity level. The more active you were, the more likely you were to lose. The less active, the less likely.
Between 800 and 1200 calories per pound people gained weight. There is only one exception: the one group that didn’t gain weight was very active people, the elite athletes.
Over 1200 calories per pound, guess what happened to everybody? They gained weight.
Here is a little table for you with the rounded up calorie density numbers of most common food groups.
If you have ½ or 2/3 of your calories coming from the last four on this list, no matter how much you’re working out, you’ll gain weight.
So, calorie density is becoming a very key concept. It’s no longer good, bad, salt, sugar, fat and all that. It’s a calorie density. You will need to lower the fat though in order to lower the CD, otherwise you go hungry.
And, again, when they looked at the populations across the US, here is what they found. They split this up between high fat and low fat, and they used 30% (when you are out in the world, and you do regular studies, this is what they think is a cut-off: High Fat >30% of energy, Low Fat <30% of energy). They wanted to look at the prevalence of obesity based on the level of fat and the amounts of fruits and vegetables (foods lowest in CD). The people who ate most fruits and vegetables had to have the lower CD diet.
So, the lowest prevalence of obesity is in the low-fat diet that eats most fruits and vegetables (including starchy vegetables too). The more fat they ate and the less fruits and vegetables, the amount of obesity went up.
Then they took these numbers and translated into calorie density, what was the CD of their diets. And they found out that the group that had the least obesity (the lowest fat and the highest intake of fruits & vegetables), had the CD of 1.22 calories per gram, which in English is 550 calories per pound (Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 83: 1362-8).
There is a report called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity & The Prevention of Cancer: Global Prospective (it’s available online for free). It was done by World Cancer Research Fund & The American Institute for Cancer Research. 1000 scientists from 30 countries reviewed 7000 studies for 5 years. This was the best of the best.
The number one recommendation was to maintain a healthy body weight, because there is a strong relationship between body weight and many cancers. And they came out with the recommendation: they recommended a mostly plant food diet, and if you ate animal products (especially meat) to make it like a condiment. And they gave a number to shoot for. They gave private goals, personal goals and public health goals. And they said a public health goal is the average Energy Density (Calorie Density) of diets should be lowered towards 1.25 cal/gm (567 cal/lb).
So, this is our goal: a total diet should be around 550 calories per pound or less, and if it’s there, we can pretty much eat all we want, never go hungry, and maintain or lose weight.
FYI, this is very easy to achieve on a low-fat raw vegan diet predominated by fruits, vegetables, leafy greens with the inclusion of small amounts of nuts and seeds.
In the next (and last) article in this series we will talk about calorie density, calorie restriction and their connection to longevity. Stay tuned!
Here’s to You, Loving Your Diet,
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