Pump Up the Volume - Getting More for Less
The usual advice when it comes to weight loss is to 'eat less'. And generally speaking, that's a good recommendation. Aside from making healthier choices, cutting back on portions is one of the best strategies for calorie control. But sometimes, along with smaller portions, comes gnawing hunger – if you're used to a certain amount of food, anything less just won't do.
It turns out that most people eat pretty much the same volume of food at mealtimes. We get used to a certain feeling of fullness when we've finished eating, and so the amount that we eat is fairly consistent. So how can you cut back, and yet not feel empty?
The answer is to pump up the volume without increasing calories. The concept is fairly simple: foods with more water, air and fiber can help fill you up without filling you out.
It's one of the main reasons we suggest that people eat more fruits and vegetables – they're more than 80% water, and the remaining 20% is nutrient-packed and fiber-rich. But when you actually run the numbers you can see how small changes can make a huge difference in your calorie intake.
Consider, for example, the difference between a putting a few lettuce leaves or cucumber slices on a sandwich instead of cheese. An entire head of watery lettuce has only 25 calories, and an whole cucumber has only 10. But a single slice of Swiss cheese will cost you 100 calories. So piling up the veggies on your sandwich will give you the bulk without the calories. This is also why salads make such good meal starters – as long as they're not drenched in dressing.
Some people simply drink water before a meal to help fill them up, but studies say that you'll actually get fuller if the water is incorporated into foods. In one case, study subjects found that a meal of chicken, rice and a glass of water was much less satisfying than when they ate the chicken, rice and water in the form of a soup. Same foods, same volume, but the soup kept people fuller, longer. So low fat soups are good meal starters, too.
Foods with the least amount of water – dry foods like crackers or pretzels, for example – tend to have a lot of calories in a relatively small volume. When you cook whole grains, like whole wheat pasta or brown rice, the volume increases – since water gets incorporated during the cooking process – and the calories per cup go down by two-thirds.
Fats and oils have no water in them at all, so they provide the most calories in very little volume. A teaspoon of oil has the same number of calories as a fresh tangerine – but which one would fill you up more?
Finally, you may not think that adding air to foods would make much difference, but it can. For example, if you make a smoothie, you can whip it in the blender for a while until it's full of air. And airy foods with irregular shapes, like puffed wheat cereal or air—popped popcorn, are good too. They take up more space on the plate - and in your stomach – giving you more for less.
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.