The Volumetrics Diet isn’t a new trend, but it’s one that’s managed to hang on through the last few decades, earning the number 6 slot on the 2020 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets list and scoring 3.5 out of 5 for weight loss and 4.5 out of 5 for healthy eating. Its focus is on the volume of food you eat; hence the name Volumetrics. Dieters lose weight by eating a larger amount of food with a high fiber and high water content and fewer calories, which helps to keep cravings and hunger at bay. But is the Volumetrics Diet for weight loss safe and effective? Let’s find out.
What Is the Volumetrics Diet Plan?
The Volumetrics Diet entered the weight-loss scene in 1999 when nutritionist and obesity researcher Barbara Rolls Ph.D. coauthored the book, The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, based on her research at Penn State University.
The premise of the diet is that foods with low-energy density help you feel full for longer so that you eat less overall and lose weight. Energy density refers to the number of calories in a serving of food (kcal/g). Lower energy density foods have fewer calories than higher energy density foods, and you can eat more of them while keeping your calorie load low and satiety high.
Benefits of the Volumetrics Diet
The Volumetrics Diet helps take the “diet” out of dieting by encouraging life-long lifestyle changes and eating patterns that don’t just help you lose weight but also help you fend off chronic disease. In addition to promoting healthy antioxidant-rich eating, the Volumetrics Diet advocates for exercising 30-60 minutes most days of the week and tracking your food intake and physical activity levels in a journal.
But it’s also accessible and sustainable, as there’s no obsessive calorie counting or weighing in. In fact, the creators recommend weighing yourself no more than once a week.
And no food or food group is totally eliminated on the Volumetrics Diet. There is room for the occasional splurge, which makes it easier to adhere to the diet over the long term and ultimately supports weight-loss success.
The Volumetrics Diet also allows for balanced meals throughout the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one to two snacks in between. How many calories per day is dependent on your current weight, gender, and weight-loss goals, but recommendations fall between 1600-2000 calories a day, in line with USDA guidelines.
The Volumetrics Eating Plan
The Volumetrics Diet separates foods into 4 categories:
- Very low-calorie density (calorie density less than 0.6)
- Low-calorie density (calorie density 0.6-1.5)
- Medium-calorie density (calorie density (1.6-3.9)
- High-calorie density (4-9)
You can refer to the The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet for the specifics on figuring out the calorie density of a food, but it’s generally as easy as dividing the number of calories in a serving by the weight of the food in grams and getting a number between 0 and 9.
Very Low-Calorie Density Foods
Here’s where you want to concentrate the majority of your food intake. According to the Volumetrics Diet eating plan, you’ll want to eat lots of low-calorie foods, including fruits, non-starchy vegetables, broth-based soups, and non-fat milk.
Low-Calorie Density Foods
Category 2 can also be enjoyed regularly. Fill your plate with whole grains, legumes, lean meats, and starchy fruits and veggies.
Medium-Calorie Density Foods
Here’s where moderation comes into play. You’ll want to eat foods that are higher in fat, refined carbs, and sugars sparingly. That includes high-fat cheeses, meats, French fries, ice cream, and bread.
High-Calorie Density Foods
High-fat and carb/sugar-heavy foods like butter, cookies, candy, nuts, and oils should be consumed sparingly.
Check out some Volumetrics Diet food choices that can help with weight control in the graphic below.
Does the Volumetrics Diet Work for Weight Loss?
Nutritious and safe, the Volumetrics Diet appears to work for weight loss by reducing your calorie intake with high-volume portion sizes. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, following a low-energy density diet and increasing fruit and veggie consumption while reducing fat intake helps to control hunger and promotes losing weight (1).
A 2016 study made up of 9500 adults showed that a low-energy-density diet reduced waist circumference and body mass index, and a review of 13 studies found that eating low-calorie density foods also leads to weight loss (2,3). Compare these findings to an 8-year study on 50,000 women that linked high-calorie density foods to increased weight gain (4).
Are There Any Negatives to the Volumetrics Diet?
There are many health benefits to enjoy when you cut back on processed foods and fast foods and start eating more low-energy-dense fruits and vegetables. The downside to a diet such as the Volumetrics Diet, however, is that it leaves out certain healthy food groups, like fats!
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help protect against inflammation and chronic illnesses such as heart disease. With its emphasis on low-fat foods and the limits placed on nutritious foods with high energy density, such as avocados and nut butters, the Volumetrics Diet misses out on these vital nutrients.
While the Volumetrics approach includes lean proteins, it limits eggs, which are considered an energy-dense food. Eggs are a complete protein, and in addition to all the essential amino acids, eggs provide healthy fats, minerals like iron, and carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin.
This type of meal plan also encourages the consumption of low-fat foods, such as low-fat dairy products and skim milk that can be sweetened with artificial sweeteners and other unhealthy ingredients. Low-fat salad dressings and ice-creams are highly processed. Whole foods with real fat in them have been proven to be far healthier.
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