Written by: Kelley R. Hill, MSN, RN-BC
In a Nutshell
- Developed by a Penn State professor around energy density (caloric value) in eating patterns
- High volume, low calories = eat less and still satisfied
- Foods are divided into categories (not food groups), and no foods are forbidden
Much research has been done on the role of energy density (number of calories) in eating patterns and findings are that when you eat meals high in volume but low in calories, you eat less but are satisfied. The Volumetrics diet can help improve appetite control and thereby achieve weight loss goals.
The diet subscribes to the idea that by emphasizing nutritious, low-calorie yet high water and fiber content foods, you can eat as much as you like – such as vegetables and fruits – allowing you to get completely full without worrying about fat, added sugars, and anxiously counting calories.
The Volumetrics diet divides food into four categories:
Very low-density “Free foods”
- Non-starchy fruits and vegetables
- Broth-based soups
- Non-fat milk and yogurt
- Starchy fruits and vegetables
- Breakfast cereal
- Low-fat meat
- Low-fat mixed dishes (bean chili, veggie saute, trail mix)
- French fries
- Salad dressing
- Ice cream
- Chocolate candies
“Free foods” are those that you can eat in any quantity, any time. Your aim is to get most of your intake from the low-density categories. Portion control is required for the medium- and high-density foods, though they are not forbidden. Some high-density foods – such as common cooking oils and nuts, for example – are important to include, in small quantities, because of their known health benefits.
Exact measurements are not required (i.e., strict calorie counting), though food tracking is important to monitor progress as well as identify common eating patterns. This may help you see where you can “splurge” a little. Most people fall into a pattern of three meals and two snacks a day, though this will vary from person to person.
The Volumetrics diet also specifies increasing exercise to at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
The plan is focused on behavior change that is helpful if you want to lose weight, or simply embrace better eating patterns and exercise habits. The diet, however, is intended primarily for weight loss.
Because no foods are completely off limits, and the diet emphasizes loads of foods that are low-calorie and nutritious – not low-calorie, low-nutrient “diet foods” – the plan is flexible enough for any budget.
The diet requires more planning, shopping, and cooking to minimize medium- and high-density food intake. Americans who enjoy convenience may therefore find this diet initially challenging to follow, as will people who do not like many fruits and vegetables or don’t enjoy eating soup.
Although restaurants generally comprise many of the medium- and high-density foods, dining out is easier on this plan compared to some. Also, because the diet does offer the opportunity to splurge, dining out should not present a problem if only done occasionally.
Scientific & Expert Support
There is definitive research supporting a low energy dense diet as helpful in weight management and weight loss maintenance. Some studies have also been done on the connection between energy density and lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer – though much more research in these areas is needed.
There is concern that the message of eating as much fruit as you want may be harmful for individuals who must monitor even natural sugar intake.
Likewise, there is concern that feeling full on fruits and vegetables will only last so long if the meal or snack did not include protein. Protein helps us feel fuller, longer. Feeling hungry, especially throughout the day, often drives us to unhealthy meals or snacks for satisfaction. (Including cheese and nuts from the higher density food groups in snacks, for example, would help.)
If you have difficulties with maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, you should consult your endocrinologist before starting this diet.
In an effort to stay in the low-density food groups, you may not end up getting enough protein. Protein is essential for basic health and well-being. Be sure you are adding an adequate amount of protein to your diet with legumes, lean meats, and tofu from the low-density group, as well as reasonable portions of meat and cheese from the medium-density group.
While this diet is balanced and generally safe for anyone to try, consultation with your physician, and ideally a registered dietician (RD) or nutritionist, before changing your diet or eating habits is recommended. Especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are taking prescription medications, or have existing health conditions.
STRENGTH OF EVIDENCE: A
There are many quality, patient-centered observational and direct studies supporting the use of low energy dense diets for weight loss and management.
This diet helps you to adopt healthier eating patterns and lose weight without leaving you hungry much of the day. Its design promotes changing healthy choices into healthy habits, rather than imposing strict rules on intake and cutting out entire food groups.
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- Kirkpatrick, K. (2020, May 19). What is the Volumetrics diet – And should you try it? Today: Diet & Fitness. Retrieved from: https://www.today.com/health/what-volumetrics-diet-should-you-try-it-t182023
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, February 15). Weight loss: Feel full on fewer calories. Mayo Clinic – Healthy Lifestyle: Weight Loss. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20044318
- Muniz Pedrogo, D.A., Jensen, M.D., Van Dyke, C.T., Murray, J.A., Chen, J., Kashyap, P.C., & Nehra, V. (2018). Gut microbial carbohydrate metabolism hinders weight loss in overweight adults undergoing lifestyle intervention with a volumetric diet. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 93(8), 7p.
- Radigan, M., Webster, A., Sollid, K. & Pike, A. (2019, June 26). The basics of the Volumetrics diet. International Food Information Council Foundation. Retrieved from: https://foodinsight.org/basics-of-volumetrics-diet/
- Rolls, B., & Barnett, R.A. (2000). Volumetrics: Feel full on fewer calories. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
- U.S. News & World Report. (2020). Best diets overall: #5 Volumetrics diet. Best Diets Rankings. Retrieved from: https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/volumetrics-diet