9 High-Calorie Foods That Won't Fill You Up
Not all calories are created equally. Foods with the same number calories can have completely different levels of satiety. The majority of the calories we consume should nourish our bodies and leave us feeling energized and satisfied until our next meal; not hungry and wanting more.
Here, we look at the reasons some higher calorie foods may leave us feeling hungry, and identify 10 high calorie foods that have low satiety.
How to know when a food has low satiety
The Satiety Index of Common Foods was created to show how common food items compare in their ability to leave us feeling full and how long they keep us feeling that way after a meal. This feeling of satiety is important to our health: It influences our ability to manage weight by determining how much and how soon we will want to eat again.
In addition to addressing satiety, it is also important to consider the source of the calories we consume. Research shows that the more processed a food has been, the less satiating it will be.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that people who ate ultra-processed foods ate more calories and gained more weight than when they ate a minimally processed diet. Even more telling is that researchers found that weight gain occurred in the group eating ultra-processed foods even when their meals had the same number of calories and macronutrients as the group eating minimally processed foods.
What are ultra-processed foods?
Processing takes a food from its natural form and changes it. Ultra-processing goes one step further and takes foods through multiple processes to get to the end product. Ultra-processed foods often take elements out of food — fats, starches, sugars — and combine them with artificial ingredients, colors, and flavors and additives like stabilizers and preservatives.
Additionally, studies show that ultra-processed foods make up almost 60% of the calories we consume and account for almost 90% of the added sugar we consume in the United States. This is important, as it seems to directly correlate with both caloric intake and satiety.
Use these simple questions to facilitate better choices around satiety, calorie content, and ultra-processed foods.
5 questions to ask when choosing foods:
1. Is this food far from its natural source?
There is a wide spectrum when it comes to food and processing — from unprocessed to minimally processed to processed to ultra-processed. Most often, foods that are as close to their natural source are best. Also remember to check labels to avoid foods with added and unnecessary ingredients.
2. Is there added sugar?
Added sugar is an indicator of empty calories. Foods with added sugar are typically higher in calories, lower in nutrients, and less satiating than foods with no added sugar.
3. What is the water content?
Foods that are dehydrated, or have a low water content, are often calorie dense. Water has no calories and takes up space in food. So when foods have a high water content, they are typically more filling and lower calorie.
4. How much fiber does it have?
Foods that are high in fiber provide volume and bulk to a meal, slowing down the digestive process and keeping you full. The opposite is also true: When you eat foods that are low in fiber, they tend to be absorbed and digested quickly and can leave you feeling hungry again in a shorter period of time.
5. Does it provide a good source of protein?
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone — it is produced to make us feel hungry. Protein suppresses the production of ghrelin, which reduces hunger. Low protein foods do not have the same effect.
10 high calorie foods that won't fill you up
While no food is “bad,” being informed about food quality and content can be a powerful tool for your health. All of these foods can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
1. Baked goods
Baked goods are typically high in refined sugar, refined flour, and refined fats, making even a small portion of these ultra-processed treats high in calories. For example, croissants rank the lowest of all foods on the satiety index of common foods. However, they are one of the delicacies I wouldn't want to live without.
When choosing baked items, opt for goods that have been baked fresh and for those made with minimal ingredients. It is best to choose options that include whole grains, which will boost fiber and protein and utilize natural sugars and healthy fats.
Have you ever noticed that you can eat an entire bag of Halloween candy and not feel full? The high sugar content, highly refined oils, and artificial ingredients found in most candy means that these ultra-processed sweets are high in calories, but low in everything else.
In their most basic form, cereals are grains. As true whole grains, cereals are widely considered to be an integral part of a healthy diet. Oats, whole wheat, brown or wild rice, barley, and rye are just a few of the many whole grains that provide nutritional value, are low calorie, filling, and can be included in a balanced diet.
This goes awry when cereal grains are refined, ultra-processed, and packaged for consumption. In the United States, when we think of cereal, we most often think of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal. The vast majority of which are ultra-processed, high in added sugar, and barely resemble the grain they started as. For a healthier option, choose minimally processed cereals, such as steel cut overnight oats, which are lower calorie, higher satiety, and more nutritious.
Potatoes are low calorie and filling, so what could be wrong with a chip? Similar to cereal, the processing is where things take a turn. Just one ounce (15 chips) of a classic potato chip has 150 calories and contains no water and minimal fiber and protein, yet contains 16% of the recommended daily allowance of fat, all from added refined oil.
As with cereals and chips, crackers are ultra-processed and typically have little nutritional value. Crackers contain no water, are often low in fiber, low in protein, and high in sodium, making them full of empty calories. For a healthier option, look for crackers made from whole grains that have higher fiber and lower sodium. Better yet, forgo the crackers and go for your favorite crunchy veggies and hummus or guacamole.
6. Dried fruit
If you are looking for something sweet to replace candies, cookies, cakes, and other treats, dried fruit can be an excellent option. Dried fruit has fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and, as long as no additional sugar has been added, contains only natural sugar.
So what’s the issue? A little goes a long way. Because all of the water has been taken out of the fruit during processing, dried fruit is less filling than the whole fruit, but still contains the same amount of calories.
7. Flavored yogurt
As with cereal, whether yogurt is an excellent choice or not depends on how it is processed and what is added to it. Many flavored yogurts are full of added sugar or artificial sweeteners, have no fiber, and, depending on the type, have nominal amounts of protein. This equates to high calorie, low nutrient, and low satiety.
When choosing a yogurt, label reading is key. Opt for plain, high protein yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, and add your favorite whole fruit for a high protein, high fiber, low calorie breakfast or snack.
8. Red meat
Red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb, is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and can be consumed as part of a balanced diet, especially when leaner cuts are chosen. However, red meat is also higher in calories and fat than other animal-based proteins like fish and poultry. Additionally, eating too much red meat has been associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
9. Nuts and nut butters
While nuts are a good option for a serving of healthy, plant-based fat and protein, they are low in water and fiber and relatively high in calories, so a little goes a long way. Further, when buying roasted, salted nuts, notice the sodium content. You may want to choose unsalted nuts and then season them to your taste to avoid sodium overload.
When choosing nut butters, be on the lookout for added sugar and hydrogenated oils. By label reading, you can choose natural nut butters made without these ingredients. In terms of satiety, you get the best result when you pair nuts or nut butters with a fruit or veggie to create a power snack that has healthy fat, protein, fiber, and water.
The bottom line
The further a food is away from its natural source, the less frequently it should appear in your daily diet. By asking yourself a few simple questions before putting an item into your grocery cart, you can make more informed choices around food.