Here’s an interesting finding – as long as food is equally palatable, people tend to eat the same weight of food. The March issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter features an interview with Dr. Barbara Rolls, at Penn State University, who has been studying this for years with the aim of helping people lose weight more easily. Her latest book – The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet – will be out in April; previous books include The Volumetrics Eating Plan. She has looked at ways to change the amount of water in foods, thereby adding weight and volume but no calories. This is done by adding vegetables to each recipe, and making sure the food is tasty. The result, found in careful studies, was that people reduced their calorie intake by about 25%. In a trial of 700 people, she found that when people ate a diet that was less calorie dense (more vegetables included) they were eating significantly more food – about a pound more food a day – yet they were eating fewer calories and easily losing more weight. In another study, people who successfully lost 10% of their maximum body weight and maintained the weight loss for at least five years were found to eat five servings of vegetables a day. Overweight participants ate three and a half servings. Besides adding more vegetables to recipes, calories are cut by reducing fat and sugar in sauces, using small amounts of olive oil instead of cream, switching to whole grain pasta or brown rice, and removing fat and skin from poultry or meat. Dr. Rolls advises adding vegetables to mixed dishes, soups and stews, and putting cooked vegetables in a blender for sauces. She suggests adding vegetables to breakfast, lunch and dinner for children and adults. She found that baked goods with added vegetables – such as extra carrots in a carrot cake – made the cake even more palatable, so people ate more. However, at the end of the day they had consumed fewer calories.
Studies done on portion size were also important – Dr. Rolls found that while people tend to eat the same weight of food day after day, when exposed to large portions they get thrown off very easily. Portion control is still important for all eaters, and it starts with visual awareness. Some people use a 10 inch rather than a 12 inch plate at home and automatically eat less. Some divide a restaurant entrée in half, and share the food or take half home for the next day. Some ask for a child’s plate, which is easy if you are ordering takeout. People interested in portion control avoid buffets and all-you-can-eat restaurants, or exercise great care therein.
Mindful eating is another important way to slow down and appreciate food. Become more aware of your hunger before eating and feelings of fullness as the meal goes on. It can take 15-20 minutes for the brain to register that you have had enough, so overeating is easy when you are rushed. Some people set a timer for 20 minutes and make sure they savor their food while making it last until the bell chimes. Eating while reading or watching television can lead to mindless stuffing for some people. Become aware of gratitude for the food you have, for the animals who gave their eggs, milk or life, and for the people who harvested and prepared food for your table. Be aware of your personal triggers for mindless eating, such as anxiety, depression, alcohol, marijuana or certain chips and sweets.
For anyone who wants to keep up on the science of healthy eating, subscribing to Nutrition Action Health Letter is a great idea. Go to www.cspinet.org.
Sadja Greenwood MD, MPH back issues on this blog