Diets That Work: New Science

A low-calorie-dense diet, like the Pritikin Eating Plan, is an effective strategy for weight management, according to new research from Yale University. Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at Pritikin, describes the study’s findings, and how we can eat more, yet weigh less.

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This is a key message of the nutrition seminars at the Pritikin Longevity Center, and now, a large new study confirms it.

Diets that work.  Diets that don’t.

Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the report reviewed 17 studies (seven randomized controlled trials, one nonrandomized controlled trial, and nine cohort studies) in adults from the U.S. and worldwide. It concluded that there is strong and consistent evidence showing that consuming a diet higher in calorie density is linked with increased body weight, while a diet that is relatively low in calorie density improves weight loss and weight maintenance. *

“What many Americans need, I believe, is an education at the Pritikin Longevity Center.” – Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition

Lead investigator Rafael Perez-Escamilla of Yale University stated that his review supports the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommendations to consume a low-calorie-dense-diet. But he recognized that many Americans do not understand which foods are low in calorie density, how they lead to weight loss, and how they can be incorporated into a consistent, long-term eating plan.

What many Americans need, I believe, is an education at the Pritikin Longevity Center, where the value of low-calorie-dense eating – and its practical application into everyday life – has been taught for more than 20 years.

Below is a summary of the relationship between low-calorie-dense eating and weight control, or what we dietitians and physicians at Pritikin refer to as “eating more and weighing less.”

Studies affirm that each day we tend to eat about the same weight, or volume, of food. And there is a limit. The daily storage capacity of most people’s stomachs is only about two to three pounds. When the stomach starts filling up, its stretch receptors send “I’m full” signals to the brain, and we’re pretty much done eating.

Feeling full is far more likely to happen, and happen quicker, when we’re eating foods that are BIG in size but low in their concentration, or density, of calories. These foods include vegetables, fruits, beans, bean-based soups, hot cereals like oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, potatoes, and yams.

What do all these low-calorie-dense foods have in common? They tend to be high in water and fiber, which means they take up a lot of space in our stomachs.

High-calorie-dense foods tend to be dry and/or fatty. And, unfortunately, they are the focus of many Americans’ diets. High-calorie-dense foods include heavily-promoted items like chips, crackers, candy bars, granola bars, dried fruits, dried cereals, nuts, oils, butters, breads, fast food, and full-fat ice cream. Even if you’re eating only small portions, you’re taking in large amounts of calories. You eat more (because, after all, you’re still hungry), so you take in more calories.

Here is a good example:

You sit down to a small cheeseburger, a few fries, and a small cookie. You’ve just swallowed about 600 calories, but chances are, you’re still hungry.

Instead of this measly-sized meal, how about a huge salad full of fresh greens dressed with balsamic vinegar, a bowl of minestrone soup, grilled salmon (a 4-ounce serving), a baked potato topped with salsa, and a bowl of raspberries for dessert? This bounty of food also adds up to about 600 calories.

Which of these two dinners is likely to leave you full, feeling good, and a lot less likely to pile up your plate with more?

Bottom Line: It is not necessarily big meals that lead to weight gain. It is big meals full of high-calorie-dense foods.

At the Pritikin Longevity Center, guests enjoy delicious and satisfying low-calorie-dense meals and snacks all day long. The result? Not only do they shed weight, their health improves, and for many, significantly so. More than 100 studies published over the past three decades in peer-reviewed medical journals have documented the success of the Pritikin Program in achieving statistically significant reductions in LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, body mass index, and the need for medications for cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes.

Low-calorie-dense foods not only help us look good, they help us feel good and live well. This is a message that all of America needs to hear.


* Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012; 112: 671.

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