Pros & Cons
- Nothing is off limits
- Lengthy meal preparation
- If you don’t like fruits, veggies, and soup, forget it
Do's & Don'ts
|Weight Loss Short-term|
|Weight Loss Long-term|
|Easy to Follow|
|For Heart Health|
Scores are based on experts' reviews
You’ll drop a pound or two a week.
People tend to eat the same weight, or amount, of food each day, regardless of how many calories they take in. Since some foods are less energy dense than others—that is, they have fewer calories per gram—filling your plate with more of those means you’ll be eating fewer calories without actually eating less food. Low-density foods, which are low in calories but high-volume, help you feel full and satisfied while dropping pounds. Fruits and veggies are ideal, since they’ll fill you up without breaking your calorie bank. (A pound of low-density carrots, for example, contains as many calories as an ounce of high-density peanuts.) Volumetrics is all about getting more mileage out of what you eat.
How does the Volumetrics Diet work?
Pioneered by Penn State University nutrition professor Barbara Rolls, Volumetrics is more of an approach to eating than it is a structured diet. With The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet as your guide, you’ll learn to decipher a food’s energy density, cut the energy density of your meals, and make choices that fight hunger. Food is divided into four groups. Category 1 (very low-density) includes nonstarchy fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk, and broth-based soup. Category 2 (low-density) includes starchy fruits and veggies, grains, breakfast cereal, low-fat meat, legumes, and low-fat mixed dishes, like chili and spaghetti. Category 3 (medium-density) includes meat, cheese, pizza, French fries, salad dressing, bread, pretzels, ice cream, and cake. And Category 4 (high-density) includes crackers, chips, chocolate candies, cookies, nuts, butter, and oil. You’ll go heavy on categories 1 and 2, watch your portion sizes with category 3, and keep category 4 choices to a minimum. Each day, you’ll eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, a couple snacks, and dessert. Exactly how strictly you follow Volumetrics is up to you. Though the books contain recipes and some sample meal plans, the point is to learn the Volumetrics philosophy and apply it where you can throughout the day. See where you can replace a category 4 item (baked white potato) with a category 1 item (sweet potato), for example.
Foods high in water play a big role in Volumetrics, since water increases the weight of food without packing in additional calories. Soup (80 to 95 percent water), fruits and veggies (80 to 95 percent), yogurt (75 percent), and yes, pasta (65 percent) are among your best bets.
You’re also encouraged to eat foods similar to what you’re craving: crunchy carrots and hummus, say, instead of chips and dip. No foods are off limits. And if there’s a category 4 favorite you can’t do without, indulge, as long as you make tradeoffs elsewhere.
Will you lose weight?
Very likely. In general, diets rich in low-energy-dense foods have been shown to promote fullness on fewer calories and deliver weight loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s what several key studies had to say about Volumetrics:
- In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007, researchers randomly assigned 97 obese women to either a low-fat diet or a low-energy-dense, low-fat diet that emphasized fruits and vegetables. After a year, both groups lost weight, but the fruits-and-vegetables dieters lost even more—14 pounds compared with 11 pounds. The researchers deemed low-energy-dense diets an effective way to drop pounds and keep them off.
- In another study, coauthored by Rolls, researchers investigated ways to maximize weight loss on a low-density diet. Two hundred overweight and obese adults were placed on a low-density diet and divvied into four groups: one got a serving of soup a day, another got two servings of soup, and a third got two daily snacks, like crackers or pretzels. (Soup, a high-water, low-density food, is a staple on the Volumetrics eating plan.) People in a fourth comparison group shaped their own low-density diet, without any special food instructions. After one year, those who supplemented their daily menu with one soup serving lost 13.4 pounds, compared with 15.9 for the two-soup group, 10.6 for the two-snack group, and 17.9 for the comparison group, according to findings published in Obesity Research in 2005. Though the exact number of pounds lost varied, the study suggests that a diet high in low-density foods leads to substantial weight loss.
- Finally, in a study of 186 women, researchers found that those on higher-energy-density diets gained about 14 pounds over six years, while those on lower-energy-density diets gained 5.5 pounds, according to findings published in 2008 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The high-density group also saw their body mass index (a measure of body fat), increase more than the low-density group did. The findings suggest that decreasing energy density is a way to prevent weight gain and obesity in both the short and long term, the researchers concluded.
Does it have cardiovascular benefits?
Yes. Volumetrics reflects the medical community’s widely accepted definition of a heart-healthy diet. An eating pattern heavy on fruits, veggies, and whole grains but light on saturated fat and salt is considered the best way to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay.
- In the Obesity Review study mentioned in the above weight loss section, the 200 participants following a low-density diet all showed significant drops in blood pressure (high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease). Average blood pressure decreased from an already-normal 116/77 mm Hg to 111/73 six months later, where it stayed for the duration of the yearlong study.
Can it prevent or control diabetes?
Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. If Volumetrics helps you lose weight and keep it off, you’ll almost certainly tilt the odds in your favor. Most experts consider an eating pattern like what Volumetrics promotes to be the gold standard of diabetes prevention—it emphasizes the right foods and discourages the wrong ones. And because there are no rigid meal plans or prepackaged meals, you can ensure that what you’re eating doesn’t go against your doctor’s advice.
- A study published in 2007 in Diabetes Care found that adults following an eating plan resembling Volumetrics had significantly lower fasting insulin levels than those whose diets emphasized high-energy-dense food. Low-density diets, the authors wrote, help prevent insulin resistance—a frequent precursor to type 2 diabetes—in which the body doesn’t respond as it should to the hormone.
Are there health risks?
No indications of serious risks or side effects have surfaced. And there are no specific age restrictions: Volumetrics is safe for children and teens, too.
How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?
Fat. The government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that 20 to 35 percent of daily calories should come from fat. Volumetrics keeps you within that range.
Protein. It’s within the acceptable range for protein consumption.
Carbohydrates. The government recommends that carbs supply 45 to 65 percent of daily calories. Volumetrics comes in around 55 percent.
Salt. The majority of Americans eat too much salt. The recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams of sodium, but if you’re 51 or older or African American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, that limit is 1,500 mg. Although Volumetrics doesn’t offer guidance on salt consumption—and a sample daily menu (below) exceed the recommended maximum—if you’re diligent about keeping salt to a minimum, you should be able to meet those standards. Ease up on processed foods (or find reduced-sodium versions of your favorites) and retire the salt shaker.
Other key nutrients. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines call these “nutrients of concern” because many Americans get too little of one or more of them:
- Fiber. Getting the recommended daily amount of 22 to 34 grams for adults helps you feel full and promotes good digestion. Veggies, fruits, beans, and whole grains—all major sources— are encouraged on this diet, so you should have no trouble.
- Potassium. A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, yet you’d have to eat 11 a day.) The majority of Americans take in far too little. How much you get on Volumetrics is entirely up to you, but because you’re almost certainly eating more fruits and veggies than you were before, you’ll likely get more potassium than most.
- Calcium. It’s essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. Many Americans don’t get enough. Women and anyone older than 50 should try especially hard to meet the government’s recommendation of 1,000 to 1,300 mg. It’s generally difficult to meet the goal, but you should succeed with low-fat dairy products and by choosing calcium-fortified juices and cereals.
- Vitamin B-12. Adults should shoot for 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. Fish like salmon and trout, along with yogurt and fortified cereals, are good sources.
- Vitamin D. Adults who don’t get enough sunlight need to meet the government’s 15 microgram recommendation with food or a supplement to lower the risk of bone fractures. A sample daily Volumetrics meal plan (below) fell short, but adding just 3 ounces of sockeye salmon, which packs almost 20 micrograms of vitamin D, will satisfy the requirement. Low-fat dairy and fortified cereals will also help.
Supplement recommended? No.
How easy is it to follow?
You won’t go hungry—daily menus are designed to be filling, and include snacks and dessert. The focus is on making smart, sustainable tweaks to your eating habits that lower the overall caloric density of your diet. And since Volumetrics doesn’t ban or severely limit entire food groups, your chances of sticking with it are higher.
You’re free to eat out, as long as you follow the diet’s guidelines. Alcohol is OK in moderation. Volumetrics books make shaping your plan easier, but there’s no way to avoid the grocery store and stove.
Recipes. Hundreds of recipes for appetizers, soups, sandwiches, pasta, and vegetarian dishes (modified to cut energy density) are gathered in Rolls’ books. Choices include: roasted lamb chops, broccoli and tomato stuffed shells, and raspberry-apple crumble. Each has counts on calories, energy density, and carbohydrate, fat, protein, and fiber grams. Learn to lower the energy-density of traditional macaroni and cheese, for example, by using whole-wheat pasta, vegetables, and low-fat cheese.
Eating out. Allowed; you’ll just have to determine which menu choices best conform. Starting with a low-calorie soup or salad makes you less likely to scarf your entire entrée.
Alcohol. Wine coolers, gin-and-tonics, and light beer are lowest on the energy-density spectrum, while pina coladas, margaritas, and daiquiris are highest. Women should stick to one drink a day, and men, no more than two.
Timesavers. None, unless you hire somebody to plan your meals, shop for them, and prepare them. And you can’t pay someone to exercise for you.
Extras. Rolls’ books contain meal planning, grocery shopping, and dining out guides; a crash course in nutrition basics; and advice for staying motivated. However, resources are mostly limited to print—facebook.com/VolumetricsDiet includes little additional guidance.
Volumetrics was designed to promote satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. You shouldn’t feel hungry on the diet, provided you adhere to its guidelines. Fruits, vegetables, soup, and other low-density foods help control appetite, as do lean protein choices like poultry, seafood, tofu, and beans.
You don’t have to give up your favorites—just make smart swaps. If you leave the butter off your bread, for example, you can have two slices instead of one for the same amount of calories. Or choose skim milk instead of whole and chug a larger glass for equal calories. And a morning stack of pancakes is still OK; just cut the oil and butter, switch to whole-wheat flour, use raspberry sauce instead of syrup, and add fresh fruit on top. Other meal ideas range from a baked potato topped with veggies, salsa, and cheese, to chicken fajita pizza.
How much does it cost?
No exotic ingredients are required, so groceries shouldn’t cost more than they typically do. And there’s no membership fee. The diet’s individualized nature gives you financial wiggle room—by making dinner from whatever produce is on sale, for example. You will, however, need The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet (William Morrow Cookbooks, $16.99).
Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?
Anyone can follow Volumetrics—choose your preference for more information.
The bulk of what you’ll be eating—fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—are staples of both vegetarian and vegan diets.
People who can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, can easily adapt Volumetrics to fit their needs.
It’s up to you to make sure your choices are low-sodium, but such a heavy emphasis on fruits and veggies (stick with fresh or sodium-free frozen) should make your job easier. It’ll also help that you’re eating meat and dairy—often high-sodium culprits—in moderation.
Yes, you have the freedom to use only kosher ingredients.
Yes, but it’s up to you ensure your food conforms.
What is the role of exercise?
Volumetrics is primarily an eating plan, but Rolls does extol the virtues of walking for 30 minutes on most days of the week. Try increasing your daily steps by parking farther away from the mall, getting off the bus a couple stops early, or strolling to a colleague’s office rather than sending an e-mail.
Last updated by Angela Haupt | January 02, 2013
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