It’s the dieter’s dilemma: you’re still hungry, though you just ate. Do you “cheat” and reach for more food? Or do you allow yourself to starve, which may make you more likely to overindulge later?
Neither of these options are truly solutions. In fact, eating more than you should or not eating enough could end up sabotaging your weight loss goals. Your best bet? Eat the right kind of foods to begin with. If you choose foods high in nutrients, you’ll stay fuller for longer – and those unwanted pounds will start dropping off.
The Secret of Low Energy Density Foods
Understanding the concept of energy density can help you stick with healthy eating for good. Energy density refers to the number of calories in a certain food.
High energy density means that there are a high number of calories in a small amount of food. Low energy density means that there are a low number of calories in a large amount of food. Low energy density foods are ideal for weight loss because the volume fills you up, but with few calories. Simply put, eating low energy density foods gives you the biggest bang for your dieting buck.
Most low energy density foods are high in water and fiber. Think fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. Water provides volume and weight without calories, while fiber brings volume and helps you stay full for longer. Protein also helps stave off hunger, so pick foods high in fiber and protein with each meal and snack.
Most processed or “junk” foods and sweets are considered high energy density foods because they’re high in fat and refined carbohydrates. So reaching for a cookie will not only cost you extra calories, but you likely won’t feel satisfied for long.
Note that just because fat is considered high in energy density doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Eating “good” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado, is essential for good health.
Foods to Fill Up On
The following foods are guaranteed to keep you fuller for longer:
· Soup. Opt for broth-based varieties that are packed with veggies and low in sodium.
· Beans, peas and lentils. Add them to soups, salads and pasta dishes.
· Green salads. Always start dinner with a green salad and you’ll be less likely to need a second helping of the main course.
· Raw fruits and vegetables. Smear peanut butter on a banana, pair an apple with a slice of low-fat cheese or dip pepper and carrot slices into hummus for added staying power.
· Seafood. Sauté scallops for dinner or add canned salmon to your salad.
· Popcorn. Nosh on a few cups of air-popped popcorn to keep you satisfied between meals. Flavor it with a dash or curry powder, cocoa or Tobasco sauce instead of salt, cheese and butter to save calories.
If the idea of energy density seems overwhelming, remember that the key to keeping hunger at bay is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Foods high in saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugar should only be eaten in moderation.
What’s your favorite low energy density food? If I’m still hungry after dinner, I go back for more veggies and drink a large glass of water.