12 January - 20 June 2016

A low energy diet leaves people feeling full and eating fewer calories

A recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition and led by researchers from Leeds University, suggests that a low energy-dense diet may reduce subjective appetite and hedonic motivations to eat, increase control over eating and reduce total energy daily intake, compared with a high energy-dense diet.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition and led by researchers from Leeds University, suggests that a low energy-dense diet may reduce subjective appetite and hedonic motivations to eat, increase control over eating and reduce total energy daily intake, compared with a high energy-dense diet.

According to the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), there is a necessity to identify effective components of weight management programs. One component that is already identified to facilitate weight loss is the promotion of foods that are “satiety enhancing” or increase feeling of fullness. Low energy-dense (LED) foods contain fewer calories per gram than do high energy-dense (HED) foods, and are usually higher in macronutrients that are important for satiation. LED preload consumption reduces hunger sensation and subsequent meal energy intake compared with HED preloads or no preloads in normal-weight, overweight and dieting individuals. As an example, a person would have to eat around 250g of carrots (LED food) to consume 100 calories, whereas it would take just 20g of chocolate (HED food) for a similar calorie intake, yet the 250g of carrots is likely to make the person fuller.

The current study, funded by Slimming World, by Buckland et al. provides the first evidence that low energy-dense meals, delivered in the context of weight loss, can reduce subjective appetite and increase control over eating. People who follow low energy-dense diets, which contain more water, protein and fibre, are likely to lose significantly more weight and have a higher reduction in fat mass than those on a high energy-dense diet.

The researchers compared a commercial Slimming World weight-loss program, which is based on LED meals, and an NHS Live Well diet which advises women to limit themselves to a daily intake of 1,400 calories (HED diet).

The scientists recruited 96 women from the Slimming World program and NHS weight-loss plan for a 14-week trial. The two groups of women were matched at baseline in terms of age, motivation to lose weight, eating behavior traits, body composition and health measures and while women from both programs lost weight, those on the LED diet were more likely “to lose clinically significant amounts of weight (more than 5 per cent of their body weight)”. On average, women on the LED diet lost 6.2% of body weight compared to 3.5% of body weight in the HED diet program.

Buckland et al. also asked participants to attend four days of sessions to assess satiation. Participants were given LED foods on two days and HED food on two other days and asked to record feelings of hunger, fullness and desire to eat. Buckland et al found that on LED food days, average feelings of hunger after lunch, for instance, were noted as 24.1 but at 53.4 on HED days. They state that their findings showed that LED meals reduced subjective sensations of appetite and meal energy intake in overweight or obese women during active weight loss.

In summary Buckland et al. note that the LED program was associated with greater reductions in weight and fat mass, and greater ease, enjoyment, satisfaction and motivation to continue with the program compared to the NHS Live Well diet program. While, the trial did not address long-term outcomes, (it is well known that there is a tendency for weight to be regained after 6 months), its objective was to understand the mechanisms of LED meals on initial weight loss and Buckland et al. note that it provides evidence to indicate that promoting consumption of LED meal is likely to contribute to the significant weight loss and reductions in fat mass observed in women following the Slimming World program. Lead author Dr Nicola Buckland was quoted in a press release as saying “The findings show that a commercial programme based on low energy density foods helped people to feel more in control of their food choices, and that more than likely made the process of losing weight more effective.”

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