The Volumetrics Diet

The seventh installment of the series on eating patterns is about the Volumetrics Diet. Last month, we explored the Flexitarian Diet and discussed how the mostly-vegetarian-with-room-for-some-meat diet is great heart-healthy option for those who would like to decrease their meat intake. Ranked #6 out of 41 total diets in the U.S News Best Diet Rankings, the Volumetrics Diet is based on the energy (read ‘calorie’) density of food. The more calories an item has per serving size, the more ‘energy-dense’ it is. Barbara Rolls, a nutrition professor at Penn State University and leader in the field, wrote The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet book in 2012.

Volumetrics Diet: In a nutshell, the diet breaks food into four categories based on an item’s energy density. It’s less important to remember each food’s specific category and easier to get a grasp on the energy density of the foods you eat most often. Category 1 foods are ‘free’ foods, and are the least energy-dense. Think broth-based soups, non-starchy veggies and fruit. Category 2 foods will have slightly more calories per serving size, such as whole grains, beans, lowfat dairy and lean protein sources. Category 3 foods include small portions of higher-calorie foods, like cheese, higher-fat proteins, desserts and snacks. Lastly, Category 4 foods include the smallest portions of the highest calorie foods, such as French fries, candy, nuts and fat sources. Please note that as the calories of each item increase, the serving size decreases, and should align with established portion sizes. For example, a serving of pasta is ½ cup, while a serving of olive oil might only be a tablespoon. Following the diet includes three meals, two snacks and dessert daily.

Nutritional Considerations: This eating plan allows dieters to pick the foods they eat, so variety is encouraged for maximum nutrition. By teaching people to recognize a food’s energy-density, this should lead to greater awareness of how many calories are consumed per item and per day, as well as appropriate portion sizes of different foods. As no foods are completely off limits, this diet allows for complete customization. Overzealous dieters may take this diet too far by restricting their food choices to Category 1 foods, thus missing out on important fat and protein foods.

Target Audience: This diet is geared toward weight-loss, although can be used by those seeking to maintain their weight as well. An ideal dieter is someone motivated to change his or her eating habits long term. For example, subbing veggies and hummus for chips would be a less energy-dense (and more nutritious!) choice but still provide lots of flavor and crunch. While not complicated, this diet does require learning the energy-density of common foods eaten by individuals. Food preparation can be as much or as little as a dieter would like and their time and budget will allow.

Foods to Highlight: The key to this diet is to ‘fill up’ on lower-calorie foods that also provide satiety. Fruits and vegetables are good examples of high-water (and high-nutrient) content foods that don’t provide a lot of calories, yet are filling because they have fiber. Broth-based soups help fill stomachs and encourage smaller intakes of high-calorie items. Lowfat yogurt is a great example of a less energy-dense food that provides all the macronutrients (carboyhydrates, protein and fat).