Finding The Sweet Spot: Balancing Calorie Density, Nutrient

A place to get your questions answered from McDougall staff dietitian, Jeff Novick, MS, RDN.

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Finding The Sweet Spot: Balancing Calorie Density, Nutrient

Postby JeffN » Tue May 24, 2011 7:22 am

Finding The Sweet Spot: Balancing Calorie Density, Nutrient Density & Satiety
Jeff Novick, MS, RDN


Q: If I haven't eaten and am feeling hunger pangs, stomach growling with an empty feeling, and I drink a glass of water, does that quiet the feeling of being hungry, even if temporarily?

Yes, it is possible but will be very temporary.

Q: Not talking about meeting nutritional requirements, just acute hunger signals. Ive momentarily filled my stomach, so don't feel hunger pangs.

Again, yes possible.

Remember, satiety is defined in medical textbooks as the opposite of hunger and satiety has certain aspects to it. Bulk, from the water and the fiber in foods, is important, as is the weight of the food as are the calories.

So, water can provide a temporary feeling of satiety but it will not last long term or meet our nutritional needs.

Q: In a discussion, someone stated that they ate soup and it was so filling they couldn't finish what they served themselves, however also stated that they felt starving still. Can one fill a stomach to capacity and still feel starving?

Yes, in a way. :)

Q; I likened to filling my gas tank to capacity and expecting to not see the gas gauge read empty. I know the stomach stretches and we have stretch receptors but also need a certain weight to feel full, but I would think that not being able to finish a serving cause you're too full wouldn't leave you feeling starved, at least not physically.

Sometimes, people are trying to describe something they are experiencing and using words and terms they know but it may not be adequate or accurate. This is why part of the role in helping someone is first to understand what is really going on. This in and of itself, can be difficult. Her comments in regard to "starving" may be referring to something different that you and I mean.

However, having said that, yes, it is possible and here is why. It is what I am calling the "J-Curve Paradox" of calorie density/nutrient density/satiety.

Generally speaking, as calorie density goes down, satiety goes up (as does nutrient density). So, if I was to plot the two against each other, in a 2D graph, it seems fairly simple, to have the lowest calorie dense, highest nutrient dense diet, eat very low on the scale.

However, there is another factor that is important, that you mention, and that is weight and to really understand this issue, we have to plot 3 axis and make it a 3D graph.

Here is why, studies have clearly shown that humans consume a certain weight of food per day, regardless of the calorie density and/or nutrient density of the food. And, the size of the vessel we are filling (the stomach) has a fairly standard and limited size (with a range of variation). On average, it is about 4 lbs of food a day with a 3-5 lb average.

If we need about 1800-2500 calories per day, we need a calorie density of 450 to 625 with a range of 360 to 833.

This is almost 100% identical to what i have been saying in regard to calorie density, and is what is recommended by the WCRF/AICR report.... 400-800 calories per pound (rounded off)

So, if you go to low in calorie density and your CD is under 300 cal/lb, at even 5 lbs of food, you would barely make 1500 calories and for most people doing the minimum activity, that is too low. At 3 lbs of food you are at 900 calories and starving.

An all fruit and veggies diet, would average under 300 and actually be closer to 150-200. At 3-5 lbs that is only 750 to 1000 calories.

So, by going to low in calorie density (ie, vegetables, vegetable soups), we can fill up the volume of our stomach but without enough weight or calories. In addition, because these foods are so high in water content, around 90% or more, the water does leave somewhat quicker than the food, so the satiety is not as long lasting.

In the actual satiety studies, they saw this with the high water foods, like fruits and veggies. They were very highly rated in s/t satiety but not in l/t satiety. Turns out the starches, like potatoes, oatmeal and whole grain pasta where the most satiating both short term and long term.

Now, when we add in the weight aspect to the calorie density/nutrient density/satiety issue, along with stomach size, it all make sense.

For instance, lets say the average stomach size is 1 liter or about 4 cups. Not only do we have to fill it with a certain amount of food volume/bulk to trigger satiety, the weight of this "bulk/volume" of food will also matter.

Let see....

4 cups of lettuce has only 32 calories and is very high in nutrient density but only weights about 188 grams and 95% water.

4 cups of apple sliced has 226 calories, fairly high in nutrient density and weighs 436 grams and 85% water.

4 cups of cooked sweet potato has 720 calories, high in nutrient density and weighs 800 grams is 75% water.

So, based on everything we know, which would be more satiating both short term and long term?

Remember the foods which will provide a combination of the most weight and the least calories for the same volume will be the most satiating per calories, but the foods with the higher percentage of water will leave the stomach sooner.

Sweet potato, then the apples, then the lettuce.

So, one can actually go to low in calorie density and fill the stomach with enough bulk volume but from foods that have to high a percent of water and not enough weight for the volume that they will not have as much long term satiety.

This is why the issue is not just calorie density or just nutrient density of just satiety but a combination of which food(s) provides the best of all three.

This is also why the pictures showing how much an equal calorie amount of different foods fills a stomach is not enough as it only looks at the issue of volume & not weight/volume, etc. The above scenario of lettuce, apples & sweet potatoes are all the same volume (4 cups) but there is quite a difference in their overall satiety.

We often see this issue arise in those who are shunning or limiting the food groups of whole grains, starchy veggies and legumes. They focus to much on the fruits and/or the veggies and while they can get in enough bulk and volume, they are not getting in enough weight (and calories) for that volume to feel really satiated long term. So, they end up either going hungry during the day, which is hard to do, or the end up over consuming on the higher fat, higher calorie dense foods (ie, nuts/seeds, dried fruit and the foods and "treats" made from them) or binging on higher calorie dense junk foods.

On the flip side, we can fill the stomach with foods with a much lower water content but the calories will then be to high and the nutrient density and the volume per weight to low for good health and satiety. This is akin to the Standard American Diet. So, we end up passively over consuming calories.

This is why in the principles of calorie density, I teach mixing the calorie density of foods from the starches, legumes, and whole grains, with the lower calorie dense fruits and veggies, up to 50/50 by visual volume. This is the sweet spot where you get the benefits of calorie density, nutrient density & satiety all together.

So, if one uses the above scenario and mixed a plate with 2 cups of sweet potato and 2 cups of vegetables (the 50/50 guideline), we now get the same bulk/volume (4 cups), enough weight/volume for long term satiety, and a high nutrient density for good health We have almost 500 grams and only 375 calories.

It may not be the lowest in calorie density, or the highest in nutrient density, but it is the highest in satiety both s/t and l/t and the best combo of all the issues. This way, one gets enough both bulk/volume and enough weight to confer both s/t and l/t satiety, with a low enough calorie density to either lose or maintain weight, with a more than adequate nutrient density to insure optimal health. Its a win/win/win.

I hope that helps

In Health
Jeff
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Re: Hunger

Postby lfwfv » Tue May 24, 2011 8:32 am

Thank you for this explanation Jeff! This has been enlightening.

I have suspected that you could indeed eat too low in calorie density and be full, but not really satisfied. At times, I find myself doing this (i love raw veggies and fruit, and go easier on starches sometimes), and then I literally feel myself craving 'calories'. I can't fit in anymore food though! I usually satisfy that need with bananas, dried fruit, or some more calorie dense grains like popcorn....anything to get in calories with little volume (without resorting to high fat choices). It is better for me to prevent those 'I need calories now!!' moments by understanding that I need to curb my tendency to eat too low in calorie density.

I think this thread should be added to the hot topics post on calorie density. It is an important part of the puzzle.
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Re: Hunger

Postby JeffN » Tue May 24, 2011 8:43 am

lfwfv wrote:Thank you for this explanation Jeff! This has been enlightening.

I have suspected that you could indeed eat too low in calorie density and be full, but not really satisfied. At times, I find myself doing this (i love raw veggies and fruit, and go easier on starches sometimes), and then I literally feel myself craving 'calories'. I can't fit in anymore food though! I usually satisfy that need with bananas, dried fruit, or some more calorie dense grains like popcorn....anything to get in calories with little volume (without resorting to high fat choices). It is better for me to prevent those 'I need calories now!!' moments by understanding that I need to curb my tendency to eat too low in calorie density.

I think this thread should be added to the hot topics post on calorie density. It is an important part of the puzzle.


Yes, thanks!!

While it all makes sense, and most everyone's real life experience bares it out, it has become more of an issue of late with the recent popularity and re-emphasis on raw food diets and very high non-starchy vegetable diets as most raw foods and non starchy vegetables are either on the very low end of calorie density, and some raw foods (nuts, seeds) are on the very high end, and so we get this "calorie paradox" I often speak off.

Also, the other item causing this to be an issue is when the concept of nutrient density is taken out of context as it can leave someone with a dietary pattern that may be very high in nutrient density, and high in bulk and volume, but inadequate in l/t satiety due to the lack of weight and lack of calories, if the diet goes to low in calorie density.

This is actually one of Dr McD's concerns with the MWL program is that people will shift their focus too much on just fruits and veggies and cut out too much of the whole grains, starchy veggies, and legumes, and not be satisfied.

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Re: Hunger

Postby ETeSelle » Tue May 24, 2011 8:53 am

JeffN wrote:This is actually one of Dr McD's concerns with the MWL program is that people will shift their focus too much on just fruits and veggies and cut out too much of the whole grains, starchy veggies, and legumes, and not be satisfied.

I agree that's a concern! Many people just can't believe how much starch I eat every day--but if I didn't I would be hungry and I would go off plan. I make sure there is at least one starch at every meal, and on days when I know I'll be very active, I pack potatoes to take along as a snack instead of fruit b/c the latter just won't hold me over.
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Trust me on this: One day you'll wake up and realize that it no longer feels like "being strict." It just feels GOOD. :)
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Re: Hunger

Postby cbs » Tue May 24, 2011 3:13 pm

I totally can concur with what Jeff said. I never felt satisfied trying to eat just fruits for my calories. Like I mentioned, even one yam/potato and I feel satisfied, or I can eat fruit (and raw vegetables, no starches) til I hurt, even gaining weight, and still be thinking about food, hungry, unsatisfied. I thought it might have something to do with the fruit sugar. I guess its the weight. Thanks for clarifying this for me!
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Re: Hunger

Postby Mayhem » Mon May 30, 2011 3:31 pm

Thank you thank you thank you!! This post is EXCELLENT, Jeff!
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Re: Hunger

Postby JeffN » Mon May 30, 2011 3:39 pm

Mayhem wrote:


Thank you thank you thank you!! This post is EXCELLENT, Jeff!


Thanks

I still have a few fine points to work out about all of this and am going to eventually come up with an equation that will make sense of all of this.


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Re: Hunger

Postby dstewart » Mon May 30, 2011 8:31 pm

JeffN wrote: I still have a few fine points to work out about all of this and am going to eventually come up with an equation that will make sense of all of this.



Hmmm.... So will that equation be in competition with or complementary to Fuhrman's H=N/C scoring, or ANDI? :unibrow:
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Re: Hunger

Postby JeffN » Mon May 30, 2011 8:37 pm

dstewart wrote:
JeffN wrote: I still have a few fine points to work out about all of this and am going to eventually come up with an equation that will make sense of all of this.



Hmmm.... So will that equation be in competition with or complementary to Fuhrman's H=N/C scoring, or ANDI? :unibrow:



Of course not.

All my guidelines are just guidelines.

And, like calorie density, anything i do is open source transparent & just a method to help better explain how filling a food will be based on actual science. Or I may just leave it "as-is."

Good health is not a proprietary system

And, to be accurate...

ND=N/C

CR-ON = Lower CD + Higher ND

Health = CR-ON + appropriate exercise/fitness + adequate rest, relaxation & sleep + adequate sunshine + emotional poise + pure air + pure water

:)

In Health
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Re: Hunger

Postby Mayhem » Wed Jun 01, 2011 7:56 am

JeffN wrote:
dstewart wrote:
JeffN wrote: I still have a few fine points to work out about all of this and am going to eventually come up with an equation that will make sense of all of this.




Hmmm.... So will that equation be in competition with or complementary to Fuhrman's H=N/C scoring, or ANDI? :unibrow:



Of course not.

All my guidelines are just guidelines.

And, like calorie density, anything i do is open source transparent & just a method to help better explain how filling a food will be based on actual science. Or I may just leave it "as-is."

Good health is not a proprietary system

In health
Jeff



I've thought this since I first joined the forum, but you are truly an exceptional person in the health field today, Jeff. I feel lucky to have found you (and McDougall of course!). =)
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Re: Hunger

Postby dstewart » Wed Jun 01, 2011 12:59 pm

JeffN wrote:PS

To be accurate...

ND=N/C

CR-ON = Lower CD + Higher ND

Health = CR-ON + appropriate exercise/fitness + adequate rest, relaxation & sleep + adequate sunshine + emotional poise + pure air + pure water

:)

In Health
Jeff


I was told there'd be no math! :mrgreen:
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Re: Hunger

Postby JeffN » Wed Jun 01, 2011 1:03 pm

When I'm done, there will be no math! :). Just sharing the logic & thought process along the way!

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Re: Hunger

Postby cbs » Thu Jun 02, 2011 2:31 pm

JeffN wrote:PS

To be accurate...

ND=N/C

CR-ON = Lower CD + Higher ND

Health = CR-ON + appropriate exercise/fitness + adequate rest, relaxation & sleep + adequate sunshine + emotional poise + pure air + pure water

:)

In Health
Jeff


This is pretty cool, thanks! Sorry I'm a nerd lol.
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Re: Hunger

Postby patty » Tue Jun 07, 2011 12:09 am

Just want to add what a great thread. I emailed the link to my son this morning. I have added your 5 ingredients from your Fast Food DVD to my notes on my ipod/ipad. I will have to add the content of this thread. How great it would be to have a Jeff Novick 50/50 App:) You have taken the macrocosmic view of hunger to a microcosmic view with equanimity.

Hunger=Peace/Grace:) You are Amazing!!! We are Blessed!!!

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Re: Hunger

Postby bettina » Wed Jun 08, 2011 11:28 am

JeffN wrote:When I'm done, there will be no math! :). Just sharing the logic & thought process along the way!

In health
Jeff


Thank you for that.
How did people do it since the beginning of time? They were probably happy and died peacefully because they didn't know what they were supposed to worry about :)
You did such a great job summarizing your calorie density DVD on this thread. It reminds me to listen to the CALORIE DENSITY DVD whenever I get in doubt that this makes the most sense.
Why do starches last longer for satiation for me than beans, considering that beans have a higher calorie density?
Starches and steamed veggies also feel best for the IBS problem I have.
Thanks for this great thread.

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