January 15, 2008 in Features

Low-calorie first course may help you eat less

Nanci Hellmich USA Today

If you want to cut calories without going hungry, consider eating an apple, low-calorie salad or broth-based soup before meals.

These are ways that have been scientifically proven to work by nutrition researchers at Pennsylvania State University. Their studies show that:

•People who eat an apple about 15 minutes before lunch consume an average of 187 fewer calories at the meal than when they have applesauce, apple juice or nothing at all. This calorie savings includes the calories from the apple.

•Men and women who have 1 1/2 to 2 cups of vegetable soup before a meal consume about 134 calories less at the meal than when they don’t have a bowl of the broth-based soup. That includes the soup calories.

•Women who eat a large salad (about 3 cups) before lunch consume 12 percent fewer calories at the meal (salad calories included) than when they don’t have the salad beforehand.

“The trick is to make sure that first course only contains about 100 to 150 calories,” says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State and author of “The Volumetrics Eating Plan.”

Julie Flood, a nutrition researcher who worked on the studies with apples and soup, agrees that dieters have to be careful. “If you run out and order broccoli cheddar soup or a salad loaded with meat, cheese and high-fat dressing, this is not going to work.”

Rolls has conducted other studies that show people can feel full on fewer calories if fiber-rich or water-filled fruits and vegetables are added to standard recipes and menu plans. That way, the same-size portions they’d normally eat contain fewer calories. This is called lowering the energy density of foods.

In practical terms this means:

•Adding vegetables such as spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, carrots, peppers and onions to lasagna, casseroles, pasta dishes and pizza.

•Increasing the proportion of vegetables in stir-fry dishes, broth-based soups and stews.

•Snacking on fresh fruit rather than dried fruit. One-fourth cup of raisins has the same calories as 1 2/3 cups of grapes.

•Adding extra vegetables to sandwiches.

A growing body of evidence shows that eating enough fish, chicken, lean meat, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts or other protein-rich foods helps ward off hunger and helps people feel full longer.

More research needs to be done on protein’s effect on satiety, Rolls says. But in the meantime, she suggests making sure you have a good source of low-fat protein at most meals.

It could be low-fat milk with your cereal, water-packed tuna for lunch, or chicken or legumes for dinner. It’s also good to find protein-rich snacks, she says, such as yogurt, low-fat string mozzarella cheese, black bean dip or hummus with vegetables.

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