If you’re trying to lose weight, eating what experts call “high-volume” foods can help you feel full on fewer calories. Instead of eliminating certain foods or food groups, volume eating aims to fill you up with foods that take up space in your gut.
“Feeling full depends on the amount of food you eat, not the number of calories and fat grams,” says Sarah Hutchinson, RDN, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health.
Focus On Filling Foods
Volume eating focuses on the energy density of the foods you eat. Processed foods and snacks like soda, cake, cookies and ice cream are all high in energy density, while whole foods like apples, celery, kale and broccoli are low in energy density.
So, you can eat a higher quantity of low energy density foods and get the same calories as you’d get from a much smaller amount of high-energy density foods.
“The goal is to prioritize high-volume, low-energy dense foods because they typically take longer for your body to digest,” Hutchinson says. Snacking on a whole apple, for example, will make you feel fuller than downing half a bag of potato chips, even though both foods contain about 80 calories.
How Do You Determine The Volume Of A Food?
The volume of a food is based on the balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein in the food, as well as its fiber content. Foods that are high in water and fiber are also high-volume foods, in part because both water and fiber have little to no calories. Examples include:
- Leafy greens, such as spinach, arugula and salad mixes
- Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower
- Water-rich vegetables, such as cucumbers, celery, onions, peppers and zucchini
- Whole fruits, such as berries, tomatoes, apples and pears
Moderate-volume foods have a hefty dose of water, moderate amounts of fiber and may have moderate to high amounts of sugar. This means they have a higher calorie hit than high-volume foods. Examples include:
- Whole grains, including oats and quinoa
- Root vegetables, including beets, carrots and squash
- Lean proteins, including lean cuts of meat and fish
Low-volume foods are typically high in fat and concentrated in sugar. Examples include:
- Fatty cuts of beef
Volume Eating Strategies
Low-volume foods make a frequent appearance on American menus. Healthier foods, too, such as nuts and nut butters, dried fruits and seeds, and olive oil are also low-volume foods.
“The trick is not to avoid these foods altogether, but rather to become strategic about when and how you eat them,” Hutchinson says.
- Make veggies center stage. When you make vegetables the focus of your meal, you’ll get more bang for your calorie buck. A bonus: Adding high-volume vegetables and fruits to your plate can reduce the overall energy density of your meal while also making you feel full.
- Eat your produce raw. Raw fruits and vegetables take up more space on the plate, and in your belly, than their cooking counterparts. They also take longer to digest, which means you’ll feel full for longer time periods.
- Sneak produce into meals. No matter what type of meal you’re preparing, odds are you can add more volume to your meal by introducing fruits or vegetables. Top your oatmeal with blueberries or chopped apples. Fold diced veggies like bell peppers, onions and mushrooms into scrambled eggs. And load up burgers and pizzas with extra veggies.
- Avoid caloric beverages. Liquid calories don’t take up the same space in our belly as food. Fruit juices, fancy coffee drinks, milk and soda pop don’t fill you up, but they will weigh you down.
- Choose high-volume foods. Instead of chips, pretzels, cookies and crackers, opt for higher-volume snacks like popcorn and rice cakes. "The idea is to incorporate moderate- and high-volume foods into each meal and use low-volume foods more sparingly,” Hutchinson says.
If your eyes tend to be bigger than your stomach, high-volume eating may be a great dietary approach to try. “Volume eating focuses on high-volume, low-calorie foods so you’re eating healthy foods without feeling hungry,” Hutchinson says. “And that’s a perfect recipe for weight loss for a lot of people.”
Ready to switch to a high-volume eating plan? Take it slow. “Increase the amount of fiber you’re consuming over the course of a few weeks rather than all at once, and make sure you up your water intake,” Hutchinson says. “Otherwise, you may run into digestive issues.”
If you have a chronic condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure or diabetes, talk to a registered dietitian or doctor before switching up your diet. “They can help ensure you get the results you want without sacrificing nutrients or nourishment,” Hutchinson says.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchinson, a registered dietitian for the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.