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There are two ways to eat fewer calories. One is to eat smaller portions and the other to reduce the amount of calories in a particular dish. With Dr. Gourmet recipes I work at both of these approaches, enhancing the taste and satisfaction of a recipe by choosing lower calorie ingredients that maximize flavor. One example of this is paying careful attention to foods that have a high number of calories by weight. Foods that are calorie dense, like those having higher fat and or sugar content, are one of my first targets when working on a recipe. The other key to eating fewer calories is controlling portion size.
There has been research showing that eating larger portions of food and eating food that is more calorie dense causes weight gain. It appears from research that these two variables are independent of each other (meaning that either would have an effect if the other was not present).
The approach of controlling calorie density and portion size can help people lose weight. Barbara Roll and her colleagues designed an excellent study to test whether reducing the calories in food as well as portion size allowed for a greater reduction in calories than either on its own (Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(1):11-17).
Participants in the study ate one of four different menus for two days. Each session was separated by more than a week. In each of the sessions subjects were given all of their meals and snacks for two days. These menus varied between a standard level (100%) and a reduced level (75%) of both portion size and the density of calories.
A "standard diet" was devised, as well as one that had the same amount of food by weight but 75% of the calories. A third diet had the same number of calories per gram but weighed 75% as much as the standard diet. The fourth diet both weighed 75% as much and has 75% of the calories by weight as the standard diet.
Information was collected on what the participants ate while on each of the four diets. It wasn't much of a surprise that when participants consume smaller portions or ate fewer calories in the same size portions that they ate less calories.
In the session where participants ate smaller portions they ate about 231 calories less per day. The diet with lower calories but the same portion sizes as the standard diet lowered caloric intake by 575 calories.
When they ate the diet that was both smaller portions and lower calories by weight there was also a reduction in total calories eaten but the effect was additive (they ate 812 fewer calories).
The subjects were allowed to eat as much as they wanted and there was more food in the diets that they needed to meet their energy requirements. Interestingly, the participants did not report a significant difference in hunger or fullness across the different diets. Part of the design of the study was to determine whether the moderate reductions would be noticed by participants. The responses were interesting in that they were more aware of the smaller portions then the lower calorie meals.
Much of the changes made to reduce calories were by reducing the fat content of the meals. This is certainly a goal in Dr. Gourmet recipes. It is often fairly easy to reduce fat without affecting the flavor of a recipe. I find that many times the lower fat version tastes better because the other flavors of the food are enhanced.
The other interesting consideration in this and other studies is that the reduced calorie foods are considered palatable by participants. While lower calorie foods have had a perception of not being as good as the full–fat versions, many studies have shown that if people don't know which food is lower in calories they usually can't tell the difference. If they are told beforehand, however, people usually say that the lower calorie version is not as good.
The basic principle of Dr. Gourmet is that it's pretty easy to eat healthier by eating both smaller portions and choosing less calorie dense ingredients. This research shows that you can eat less by using this approach and be satisfied.
First posted: February 6, 2006