– Dr. Barbara Rolls, researcher for Penn State University
– Ellie Krieger, Registered Dietitian and Food Network star
Take Action & Respond: Try one of the many tips listed below and tell us how it goes. What worked and what didn’t? Did anything unexpected happen?
As I prepared to return home from this year’s Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Philadelphia, I started reflecting on all of the new research and tips I learned over the past 4 days. And I figured what better way to reflect than to write! So I’ll be writing a series of blog posts summarizing the take-home points from a number of the sessions I attended (at least the interesting ones). First up, a topic near and dear to my heart: improving our eating habits by focusing on having more of the good stuff (fruits and veggies), rather than less of the bad stuff (pastries and fried foods).
Dr. Rolls has performed a number of studies focusing on how offering more fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks impacts our calorie consumption both at those meals and throughout the entire day. Her goal is to find ways to cut the amount of calories we eat by lowering the “energy density” of the meal rather than restrict portion size.
Energy density is defined as the amount of calories contained within a given volume of food. In other words, you can eat half a pound of carrots and consume far fewer calories than if you ate half a pound of macaroni and cheese. Therefore, carrots have a lower energy density than macaroni and cheese. So why do carrots fill us up even though they have less calories? Two reasons: fiber and water. Do note, however, that it is likely the natural occurrence of water and fiber in these foods that lead to fullness, not the other way around. In other words, don’t go drinking a big glass of Metamucil (fiber and water) right before a meal and expect the same effects. In fact, you’ll probably get a quite different, less pleasant effect.
I personally like this “eat better, not less” approach, because no one likes to feel restricted. In fact, research shows the vast majority of us can’t maintain a set of eating habits in the long-term if we feel that we’re in a restricted state. That’s why most radical, restrictive diets ultimately fail. Who really wants to eat two grapefruits for lunch and dinner the rest of their lives? So instead, let’s look at what approaches Dr. Roll suggests we can take to lower the energy density (and ultimately the total calories) of our meals/snacks while keeping the amount of food we eat the same (or even more):
Serve large portions of veggies and fruit with meals – Make veggies “the entree”. Have them on the largest serving dish. Think about your grains and lean protein as the “sides.” Stack your plate with those salads and veggies. Fill half of your cereal bowl with berries. The more on your plate, the more you’ll eat.
Make fruits and veggies your “go-to” foods when hungry – Have veggies and fruit available when you’re hungry without competing foods around. You’ll be more likely to eat them and enjoy it. For example, have carrots/celery and hummus or an apple with peanut butter as a snack. Or start your dinner with a salad or vegetable soup course before serving anything else.
Get stealthy – Choose foods and recipes that can easily integrate veggies and fruits as ingredients. For example, zucchini or carrot bread, veggie soups/stews, using sliced zucchini or eggplant in place of layers of pasta in lasagna, add fruit to your oatmeal or cereal or build a salad in your sandwich by topping with lettuce, tomato, onion, pepper, cucumber, sprouts and more.
Use multiple strategies – If the ideas above sound like good ones, try all of them. The more opportunities you give yourself to have fruits and veggies, the more likely you are to eat them. And the more high-nutrient, low-calorie produce you eat, the less you will be tempted to overeat higher calorie foods.
On the culinary side of things Ellie Krieger discussed how we can take some established recipes and look to “healthify” them while still keeping the taste and flavor. Healthy does not have to equal cardboard. While she discussed a number of the “fixes” she made to comfort foods in her new cookbook, Comfort Food Fix, some of her best information was focused on easy ways to quickly, easily incorporate fruits and veggies as ingredients in recipes:
“Zero-step” additions – Purchase ready-to-go fruit purees (including applesauce) and veggie soups to use as bases for sauces/dips and baking substitutions.
“One-step” additions – Use a blender on a jar of drained roasted red peppers or olives to make a tapinade or blend up fresh herbs such as parsley, cilantro or arugula to flavor sauces, dressings, soups and stews.
“Two-step” additions – Boil and mash cauliflower, turnips, carrots or potatoes. Or toss veggies with a little bit of olive oil and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes. You can use them as a side dish or blend them with a little liquid to make a fresh soup!
**Take Action & Respond: Try one of the many tips listed and tell us how it goes. What worked and what didn’t? Did anything unexpected happen?