Counting Calories Is So Old Fashioned. There’s A Better Way to Measure Food Intake

With so many diets to choose from, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the foundation of any weight loss program is to consume no more calories than your body uses as fuel for your activities. But counting calories to measure our daily food intake seems old fashioned and even irrelevant given what we’ve learned about the need for eating a balanced, nutritious diet.

Calorie Dense Foods

What does seem intriguing, though is the idea of managing calories based on “calorie density” (CD), a concept that was first pioneered more than a decade ago by Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a professor of nutritional sciences. Her Volumetrics Diet, named the most effective diet of 2011 and 2012 by The Daily Beast, is based on packing fewer calories into each bite. The objective, she writes in her best selling book, The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, is to choose nutritious, low CD foods that give you satisfying portions and leave you feeling full without going overboard on the calories.

“When you reduce the calories per bite, you can eat the same amount of food (bites) while saving calories. A high-CD food gives you lots of calories in a small amount of food, while a low-CD food has fewer calories for the same amount of food.”

Dr. Rolls believes that it’s important to eat a wide variety of nutritionally sound, satisfying foods, so a typical day on her diet might include soups, fruits, plenty of vegetables and more modest portions of lower-fat dairy products and meat.

“Forget about just cutting the fat or carbohydrates or cutting out whole food groups,” she wrote. “The key to success is finding positive strategies that will lead to sustainable, healthy eating.”

Same Calories, Different Foods

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The best way to think about Volumetrics is to consider which 500 calorie meal is more filling and leaves you feeling satiated the longest; a large chocolate chip muffin from Starbucks with orange juice and a coffee latte? Or a vegetarian omelet with whole wheat toast and fresh fruit? Or, consider a snack of nuts and pretzels vs. soup and salad.

Without knowing it, I’ve been eating this way for years, given the bounty of freshly picked vegetables that are available at local farmers’ markets most of the year in California. Several times a week during the summer months, I make a big pot of provence-style ratatouille with lots of just-picked summer squash, eggplant and tomatoes. During the the colder months, I feast on winter squashes, nutrient-dense broccoli, hearty vegetable soups and and root vegetables. Reading The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, I discovered that these kind of vegetables, with their high water content, are considered “low CD” foods that leave you feeling full with few calories.

Other “very low CD” foods include almost all fruits and non-starchy vegetables and broth based soups. “Low CD” foods include whole grains, lean proteins, legumes, and low-fat dairy.

Dr. Rolls’ book includes a 12-week diet plan and more than 100 recipes. It seems like an intelligent way to manage calorie intake and most important, it’s a diet you can stick with. The paperback edition will be in book stores beginning next month.