menu iconknow your dna logosearch icon
Foods That Make You Feel Full on Fewer Calories
Updated on October 3, 2022
Back to top
back to top icon
hello world!
Diet / Weight Loss
Foods That Make You Feel Full on Fewer Calories

Many people think they should eat less to lose weight. This could mean eating fewer meals in a day or reducing meal portions.

For example, if you’ve been eating 5 meals a day, you can lessen it to 3 meals. Or, if you used to be on a carbohydrate-rich diet, you can switch to a low-carb diet and cut down on carbs. 

Most people find these methods too restrictive. They also involve a bit of calorie counting, which can be time-consuming. One alternative is to eat foods that make you feel full on fewer calories.

We consulted Dr. Rizza Mira, our resident medical reviewer, to talk about foods that can reduce your calorie intake. She's a general practitioner and an expert in diet and nutrition.

Foods That Make You Feel Full on Fewer Calories 2

What Are Low Energy Dense Foods?

Foods have different energy densities. Energy density is the total calories per weight of food. 

Nutritionists usually measure energy density by kilocalories per gram (kcal/g).1 Low energy-dense foods contain fewer calories per serving. 

Some examples of these filling foods are:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fresh fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy
  • Lean meats 
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Broth-based soups
  • Egg whites

Foods with high water and dietary fiber are usully low in calorie density. They can fill you up while you eat fewer calories.

Low Energy Density and Your Calorie Intake

Each person has a recommended daily caloric limit. Health experts calculate it based on numerous factors, such as your:

  • Weight
  • Height
  • Current health
  • Level of activity

Eating low energy-dense foods reduces your calorie intake. Since they contain fewer calories, you can eat larger portions without adding too many calories to your meals.

How Low Energy Dense Foods Help You Lose Weight

According to Dr. Mira, the key to weight loss is reaching a calorie deficit.

"If your total calorie intake is less than the amount of calories your body burns, a calorie deficit is achieved," she adds.

Here’s how low energy-dense foods can help with weight loss:

1. Decreases Total Calorie Intake

Low energy-dense foods primarily include fruits and vegetables. They contain plenty of water and dietary fiber, which adds volume and weight to food — but not calories. 

Studies show that if you eat more foods that are high in water, you can reduce your calorie intake.2 Dr. Mira adds that vegetables are also high in fiber and can make you feel full longer.

Many fruits and vegetables make great choices, including:3

  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Strawberry
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini 

You can add these foods to your recipes and meal plans. Aside from that, you may also add broth-based soups before meals. 

A low-calorie soup can help reduce your meal intake by making you feel full. 

Women who ate a bowl of chicken rice soup before their meal ate less than those who received a chicken casserole. They also ate less than the women who drank water with their casserole.4

You can still include some high calorie-dense foods in your diet with high-fiber foods. This can help reduce your calories.

2. Releases Hormones That Promote Satiety

Chewing is an important part of digestion. But it doesn’t just break down your food. When you chew, it triggers gut hormones. 

Fiber-rich foods usually take us more time to chew. A study showed that the more you chew on them, the more gut hormones are released. 

These hormones can decrease hunger and food intake.5  

Some low energy-dense foods are also rich in proteins. Protein-rich foods can alter your digestive hormones and decrease your appetite.

High-protein meals suppress hunger and enhance satiety after meals. They do this by increasing the production of peptide YY and decreasing your ghrelin.6 

"Proteins are essential macronutrients needed by the body to repair tissues and metabolism. They can also regulate and control your hunger, to name a few," says Dr. Mira.

Below are healthy sources of high-quality protein. They are also low in fat and calories:

  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Fish, especially those with healthy fats
  • Lean proteins such as poultry
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Egg whites

3. Keeps You Full Longer

Solid foods high in fiber add bulk to your diet, which helps slow down your digestion. 

They can help you stay full longer since they take more time to digest. This delay decreases the number of meals you eat in a day. In turn, this can reduce your total calories. 

Remember: High-fiber foods enhance fullness at different levels. How you prepare them may also influence their effects on your appetite. Generally, it’s best to keep it simple.

Whole foods like peeled carrots are also more satiating than if they are blended or juiced.

One study shows that a whole apple is more filling than apple sauce and apple juice, even though they had equal amounts of fiber and calories. 

People who ate the apple ate less food during lunch, compared to those who ate apple sauce and drank apple juice. 

Adding Low Energy Dense Foods To Your Diet

It may not be easy to change your eating habits and lifestyle. Creating a meal plan based on energy density is no different.

Here are some foods that you can add to your diet:

Vegetables

Most vegetables are low calorie but have high volume or weight.

When cooking or preparing food, you can substitute some energy-dense ingredients with vegetables. For example:

  • For pasta, try to replace cheeses with sauteed vegetables like broccoli.
  • Cut down on saturated fats and add more servings of vegetables to your plate.
  • Include vegetables like lettuce and cucumber in your sandwiches.
  • Snack on sliced carrots and cucumbers, or make a salad but avoid using dressing.

Fruits

Most fruits can fit into a healthy diet. But some make better choices in terms of calories. 

Frozen and canned fruits without syrup are practical options when whole fresh fruits are unavailable. On the other hand, fruit juices and concentrates tend to have a high energy density.

However, Dr. Mira says to be careful with processed fruit products.

"Be sure to check the labels of processed fruit juices and concentrates as some of them may contain hidden amounts of sugar," she says.

Highly processed foods are usually high in calories. They don’t make you feel as full as whole foods.

Here are some tips on how you can include fruits in your meals:

  • Add blueberries to your breakfast foods, like cereal and pancakes.
  • Combine fruits with a bit of peanut butter on your whole wheat toast.
  • Make a salad with some mandarin orange. 
  • Have fresh whole fruits available, so you can grab a bite anytime.

Whole Grains

A good deal of carbohydrates are either refined grains, or are made of them. Examples include cereal, rice, bread, and pasta. 

Whole grains are a better option. Not only are they low on calories. They are also nutrient dense foods. 

They are rich in fiber and other essential nutrients like B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium.

Here are examples of whole grain foods:

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn/ Popcorn
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta

Still, be mindful of your portions. Processed whole grain foods (like whole wheat bread and pasta) contain more calories. 

Proteins

Some of the most filling foods are rich in protein, but low in saturated fat and calories. 

Even though they have a higher energy density than the other foods we recommend, they can still be part of healthy eating.

Here are some excellent sources of protein:

  • White meat or poultry, such as chicken and turkey
  • Fish with heart-healthy fats, like salmon and sardines
  • Lean cuts of beef, such as sirloin
  • Pork tenderloin


Lean meats are great. But keep in mind that fats aren’t always bad for you.

Some studies point out that healthy fats can trigger hormones that decrease appetite. But other studies show conflicting results.8

Eat More to Lose Weight

A low energy-dense diet may be a sustainable way of controlling your daily calorie intake. It allows you to eat more fiber and more protein, and still lose or maintain a healthy weight. 

The key is to limit your intake of high calorie-dense foods that aren’t healthy, or don’t contain as many nutrients. Substitute unhealthy options with healthy foods, including:

  • Low energy-dense foods
  • Some high energy-dense foods

Eating them can make you feel full and help you be more in control of your food choices. You can consistently stick to a weight loss plan when you don't feel deprived during a diet.

Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
Back to top icon