A low energy diet leaves people feeling full and eating fewer calories

May 10, 2018, University of Leeds
A low energy diet leaves people feeling full and eating fewer calories
Credit: University of Leeds

People who followed a diet of low energy density food such as vegetables, lean meat and rice were more likely to feel full than those who tried to restrict their calorie intake, according to research.

The new study found those eating low energy density meals were on average consuming around 1,000 fewer calories a day.

Low energy density foods contain more water, protein and fibre, and result in bigger portion sizes when compared to higher energy density foods, and have the effect of reducing hunger pangs.

The research, led by the University of Leeds and published in the Journal of Nutrition, looked at the impact of low versus high energy density foods on desire to eat in a series of experiments at the University's Human Appetite Research Unit.

The study also compared the effectiveness, over 14 weeks, of a Slimming World weight-loss programme based on low energy density foods and the NHS Live Well diet, which advised women to limit themselves to 1,400 calories a day.

Women on both diets lost weight but those on the lower energy diet (Slimming World, UK) were more likely "…to lose clinically significant amounts of weight", more than five per cent of their body weight.

However, there were other differences between the two weight loss plans. The women with Slimming World took part in weekly group support sessions. Those following the NHS Live Well diet did not receive face-to-face support, although there was a website with advice on healthy eating, dieting and an online forum. The focus of their diet was to restrict calorie intake.

Psychologist Dr. Nicola Buckland, the lead author, said: "The findings show that a commercial programme based on low energy density foods helped people to feel more in control of their food choices, and that more than likely made the process of losing weight more effective.

"A lot of people give up on diets because they feel hungry between meals. Our research shows that eating low energy density foods can help overcome that problem.

"Gram for gram, low energy dense foods contain fewer calories than high energy density foods, so people are able to eat a larger volume of food for the same (or lower) calorie intake, leading them to feel much fuller.

"For example, someone would have to eat around 250g of carrots to consume 100 calories whereas it would take just 20g of chocolate to achieve a similar calorie intake, yet the greater volume of carrots is likely to make you much fuller."

Low versus high energy density foods

Over four days the participants attended the University of Leeds' Human Appetite Research Unit to eat a number of test meals.

On two days they were given a diet of low energy density foods – and on the other two days, a diet of high energy density foods. On both days, the breakfast and lunch provided the same amount of calories (larger volume for the low energy dense meals) and in the evening participants could help themselves to as much of the evening meal and snacks as they liked.

They were asked to record feelings of hunger, fullness and desire to eat.

The researchers found that on the low energy density days, feelings of hunger and desire to eat were consistently lower and the feeling of fullness was higher.

The participants were asked to record their experience on an increasing scale from zero to 100.

On low energy density days, three hours after breakfast, the women on average were reporting feelings of hunger at 29.5 on the scale. On the days they got high energy density food, the figure was 53.8.

Feelings of fullness three hours after breakfast were recorded as 56.2 on the low energy density days compared to 31.4 on high energy density days.

A similar effect was seen three hours after lunch when the scores for feelings of hunger were of 24.1 and 53.4 on low and high energy days. Fullness was scored at 63.5 and 33.

On the high energy density days, the women were taking in significantly more energy: on average an extra 1,057 calories.

Effectiveness of weight-loss programmes

Half the women were on the Slimming World programme and the other half on the NHS Live Well programme. Each group was equally matched for age and Body Mass Index, which ranged from 28 to 45 kg/m2 (28 is classed as overweight and 30-plus as obese).

The study found that women on the Slimming World programme lost a greater proportion of weight over 14 weeks. On average they shed 6.2 per cent of body weight – around 5.8 kg.

Weight loss greater than five per cent of body weight is "clinically significant."

The women following the NHS Live Well programme on average saw their weight drop by 3.8 per cent – equivalent to 3.3 kg.

Dr. Jacquie Lavin, Slimming World's Head of Nutrition and Research, said: "We might think we need to be overly strict with ourselves when we're losing weight but this type of restrictive approach ultimately leaves us feeling more hungry and deprived.

"By filling up on low energy dense foods people can eat a larger amount of food and feel more satisfied while they lose weight so they feel better able to stay on track, and they never have to feel guilty about what they're eating or how much is on their plate."

The research is in line with a call from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence for scientists to identify the components of weight loss programmes that contribute to successful weight loss.

Dr. Buckland, now based at the University of Sheffield, said: "This study has produced the first evidence that low energy meals reduce hunger for among people who are following a loss plan.

"Undoubtedly other parts of the Slimming World programme such as individual and group support would have helped but it is likely that the consumption of low foods played a role."

Explore further: Learning to make healthy choices can counter the effects of large portions

More information: A Low Energy–Dense Diet in the Context of a Weight-Management Program Affects Appetite Control in Overweight and Obese Women The Journal of Nutrition, doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy041

Related Stories

Learning to make healthy choices can counter the effects of large portions

January 25, 2018
People are often told that eating everything in moderation can help them lose weight, but it is better to choose healthier foods than to try to eat less, according to Penn State researchers.

Smokers have worse diets than non-smokers

April 3, 2018
Smokers have worse quality diets than former smokers or non-smokers, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Energy dense foods may increase cancer risk regardless of obesity status

August 17, 2017
Diet is believed to play a role in cancer risk. Current research shows that an estimated 30% of cancers could be prevented through nutritional modifications. While there is a proven link between obesity and certain types ...

Readjusting calorie consumption as you lose weight

January 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—If you find that your weekly weight loss is slowing down, maybe it's time to readjust your calorie intake.

Does your diet contain empty calories?

January 31, 2018
Whether you count the calories you consume every day, it's important to recognize when you might be filling your body with junk food that provides no nutrients. And, as Jason Howland reports in this Mayo Clinic Minute, many ...

Recommended for you

Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour

May 24, 2018
A lot can happen at 160 degrees Fahrenheit: Eggs fry, salmonella bacteria dies, and human skin will suffer third-degree burns. If a car is parked in the sun on a hot summer day, its dashboard can hit 160 degrees in about ...

Research finds a little exercise does a lot of good for ageing muscles

May 24, 2018
Getting old doesn't necessarily mean getting weak and frail – just a little bit of exercise can help maintain muscle mass and strength, Otago research has revealed.

In helping smokers quit, cash is king, e-cigarettes strike out

May 23, 2018
Free smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine patches and chewing gum, are a staple of many corporate wellness programs aimed at encouraging employees to kick the habit. But, new research shows that merely offering such aids ...

What makes us well? Diversity, health care, and public transit matter

May 23, 2018
Diverse neighbors. Health centers. Commuter trains. These community attributes, and other key factors, are linked to well-being and quality of life, according to Yale researchers.

Time spent sitting at a screen matters less if you are fit and strong

May 23, 2018
The impact of screen time on cardiovascular disease, cancer incidence and mortality may be greatest in people who have lower levels of grip-strength, fitness and physical activity, according to a study published in the open ...

Widely used e-cigarette flavoring impairs lung function

May 23, 2018
A new study has found that a common e-cigarette flavoring that has chemical characteristics similar to toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke disrupts an important mechanism of the lungs' antibacterial defense system. The ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.5 / 5 (2) May 10, 2018
Why not just call a spade a spade. Low energy foods are low in calories. No? So why not say something like "low calorie to volume ratio", or "high nutrient to calorie ratio", or something that readers are more likely to understand? "low energy" is vague, doesn't make much sense, and sounds more like a buzz word quacks use to promote the latest diet fad.
not rated yet May 14, 2018
Thanks Dr. O.B. Vious! Who would have thought?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.