On Your Health

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What is Volume Eating?

Volume eating is the practice of eating LOTS of food to lose weight, or to maintain a healthy weight. Volume eaters load up on lots of low-calorie, high-volume food. It’s not a new concept – people have used this little (high-volume) trick for decades. 

This eating philosophy is also sometimes referred to as the energy density approach. It’s all about evaluating foods based on nutrition, calorie density and fiber content. Foods with a lower calorie density contain fewer calories per gram than high-calorie-density foods. Fiber content is something to pay attention to because fiber keeps you feeling full. 

Think about it this way. It’s 3 p.m. You’re at your desk and you are HANGRY. You could choose to eat one regular-sized Snickers bar, which will set you back 280 calories. And, if you’re pretty darn hungry, you’re probably not going to nibble- that Snickers will be gone in four bites. 

If you wanted, though, for the same 280 calories, you could eat three medium apples. Or 4 ½ cups of grapes. Or a packet of tuna, a sliced red bell pepper and a Babybel cheese. Or 23 almonds and 20 cherry tomatoes. See where this is going?

Volume eating, also called Volumetrics, has been a recent TikTok darling. It’s a clever eating strategy based on eating foods with lots of volume and relatively low calories. Generally speaking, adults eat about five pounds of food each day. Five pounds of food could contain 2,000 calories (or many more, depending) or five pounds of food could contain more like 1,700 calories. The feeling of fullness or satiety is the same (five pounds), but the calorie density changes. 

Focusing on filling foods can help you feel full on fewer calories. It’s important to make sure you choose filling, high-volume, low-calorie-density foods with high nutritional value to make the most of this plan. This tends to be a healthy way to eat because – fun fact – many of the foods packed with fiber and low in calories are fruits and vegetables, AKA what we’re supposed to fill most of our plates with anyway. They’re also the cornerstone of one of the world’s healthiest diets, the Mediterranean Diet, which you can learn more about here, and, similarly, anti-inflammatory diets rely on many of the same healthy choices.

Rather than counting calories or moderating your food intake, eating this way is more about enjoying foods in the most satiating way possible. Reporter Tamar Haspel wrote extensively about it in The Washington Post, saying, “I like energy density because it’s the Unitarianism of diets. It doesn’t prescribe specific foods and it co-exists with just about all the other diets. Almost regardless of how you’re eating — low-carb, keto, low-fat, paleo — you can focus on whichever foods in those diets are low in calorie density. As an adjunct to other diets, it can amplify their effect.”

She cites an experiment – the Wheaties Experiment conducted by Barbara Rolls, author of the series of Volumetrics diet books. She realized that cereal flakes were the perfect mechanism for testing whether or not food volume matters as much as calorie count does for satiety.   

Here’s what happened: "In Rolls’s experiment, her team crushed the Wheaties to 80 percent, 60 percent and 40 percent of their original full-flake volume, and let subjects take their own serving. All subjects estimated they ate about the same number of calories, but their intake went up significantly as volume went down. The subjects who got the 40 percent cereal ate a third more — despite the fact that crushed cereal isn’t really very appetizing."

A food’s volume is a function of a couple of things: its fiber content and the balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat in the food. High-fiber foods that also contain a large amount of water are considered to be high-volume foods. 

Women ages 31-50 should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day. Men in that age group should shoot for 31 grams daily. More than 90 percent of women and 97 percent of men don’t get their daily recommended fiber, a fact attributed to the overconsumption of processed foods.

Here are a few examples of high-volume foods:

Cruciferous vegetables. Think Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage. Cabbage is super versatile. Enjoy it shredded into slaw, sauteed with a little olive oil, or roasted. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels roast up beautifully, too; they’re also great raw in salads or cooked into soup. 

Fruits. Think whole fruit like apples, pears and berries. Tomatoes, too, technically! There’s no better snack than a crispy sweet apple or a lush juicy pear. And with each, you get about five grams of fiber.  Raspberries pack eight grams of fiber per cup. Blackberries are hot on their heels at 7.8 grams per cup.

Green leafy vegetables like spring mix, lettuce, spinach or arugula. For a hearty lunch, toss together a few handfuls of greens, water-packed tuna, cauliflower or broccoli, maybe a few garbanzo beans and a tablespoon of homemade vinaigrette. That’s a high-volume, low calorie-density delight. Easy to pack for work and easy to whip up at home.  

Vegetables with high water content like zucchini, celery, cucumbers or onions. These veggies are delicious and so versatile. Zucchini can be sliced into pasta sauces, grated and cooked into fritters or enjoyed raw in salad. Celery dipped in hummus is a satisfying healthy snack. Cucumbers are excellent in salads or sandwiches and onions are terrific any way you slice them.

To make the most of your high-volume eating plan, try these tips:

  • Avoid high calorie-density foods like sodas, bacon, sweets, butter or fatty cuts of meat.
  • Don’t forget about airy foods! What? Foods that are puffed with air like puffed cereal (watch for added sugar), rice cakes or popcorn.
  • Add vegetables. Add them everywhere you can. Soups, stews, sauces, omelets…vegetables add volume and fiber, which means satiety. 
  • Same with fruits. Toss berries or diced apples into your oatmeal, or on top of your cereal.
  • Raw produce for the win. Cooked vegetables are an excellent choice, but raw veggies are even better. They take up more room in your stomach. 

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