Embark on a journey that redefines the calorie narrative. In this article, we unpack key insights around the concept of satiety per calorie, an idea gaining traction yet often misunderstood.
Discover how focusing on achieving satiety efficiently with fewer calories challenges the conventional calories in-calories out model.
Uncover how tweaking what you eat, rather than how much, can be a game-changer in your weight loss voyage.
What is Satiety?
First, what is satiety?
Satiety is the absence of hunger or the drive to eat.
You experience satiety for a limited time only.
Eventually, your body decides you require more energy and nutrients, so you go out in search of food.
You can eat pretty much anything to experience satiety. When hungry, most people gravitate to energy-dense foods that combine fat and carbs, giving them a massive energy hit. But you just consumed a LOT of energy to achieve this satiety.
Thus, to lose weight and improve our metabolic health, we must find a way to achieve satiety more efficiently with less energy.
Rather than simply eating mindlessly TO satiety, we can optimise our diet to eat FOR satiety and manage hunger with less energy.
But as you will see below, there is no simple model of satiety that works in all situations. For better results, we can combine several models.
A calorie is simply a measure of potential chemical energy in a food.
While satiety may be a new term for many, ‘calories’ comes with plenty of baggage and negative connotations. Many have rejected the simplistic calories in vs calories out (CICO) model long ago.
- The Energy Balance Model of Obesity describes well why we gain weight when eating more. Consuming more energy than we use tends to lead to weight gain (and vice versa).
- Thinking simply in terms of calories in vs calories out doesn’t explain why we eat more or what we can do to achieve a negative energy balance.
- CICO defines the problem but doesn’t give us an effective solution.
- ‘Just count your calories and move more’ usually doesn’t work in practice — eventually, we eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full.
- If we exert herculean willpower over our instincts, our bodies will downregulate our metabolism to conserve energy and stop weight loss.
- Many people are triggered by anything with ‘calories’ (e.g. satiety per calorie) in the name as it infers that they need to count calories.
Low Carb & Keto
While mainstream dietary advice recommends limiting fat because it’s the most energy-dense macro, many people have benefited from a lower-carb dietary approach that appears to break the laws of thermodynamics.
- Reducing refined carbohydrates gets people out of the fat+carb danger zone that tends to align with hyperpalatable ultra-processed foods that drive overeating. Hyperpalatable foods (aka ‘bad carbs’) tend to blend refined carbs and fat with minimal protein and fibre.
- A lower-carb diet also tends to contain more protein, which is the most satiating macronutrient. Hence, a lower-carb diet often leads to greater satiety with fewer calories.
- While the Carb-Insulin Model of Obesity seemed like a logical explanation for the benefits of low-carb, recent studies have shown that a low-carb or low-fat diet can help people lose weight.
- It’s not simply a matter of carbohydrates raising insulin and causing obesity. We can’t turn off our pancreas by limiting carbs. All food causes an insulin response eventually. Unfortunately, fat is not a free food and can contribute to body fat.
- Higher carbohydrate foods yield greater short-term satiety because they raise your blood glucose and insulin over the first few hours (see Holt, 1996).
Protein Leverage (Protein:Energy Ratio)
Protein leverage is a powerful model that helps us understand why we eat more than we require. It’s based on the understanding that we crave protein and continue to eat until we get enough protein.
- Protein leverage explains most of the variance in calorie intake at higher protein intakes (e.g. with a lower-carb diet).
- Protein leverage breaks down when people consume less protein (e.g. fruitarian, plant-based diets). At this point, other factors like energy density, fibre and nutrient density become the dominant factors in the satiety equation.
For more details, see Why Protein Leverage Breaks (How to Optimise Satiety with Low Protein).
- While a super high protein %, PSMF-style diet provides a higher satiety per calorie; it still may not provide enough energy (from fat and carbs) to prevent you from being hungry — if you try to live on 60% protein for more than a few days, you’ll find yourself craving energy dense carb+fat comfort foods like doughnuts and pizza.
In our Macros Masterclass, people get the best results by incrementally increasing their protein % by dialling back carbs and fat while prioritising protein.
Energy density is another satiety factor that has been popular over the years, promoted by Professor Barbara Rolls and others.
- Energy density explains much of the variance in calorie intake on lower protein and low-fat diets. We struggle to overconsume calories when our food contains minimal calories with heaps of fibre and water.
- Simply adding water to food or drinking shakes isn’t particularly satiating, at least for long. Low-energy-density foods tend to provide short-term satiation but not longer-term satiety. We achieve the most satiety per calorie from nutrient-dense whole foods that contain more water and fibre and less refined fats and carbs.
- Energy density may be helpful for a low-fat diet when carbs are lower. But when carbs are low, the relationship between calories and energy density breaks down.
- Even on a low-fat diet, few people consume a very low-energy-density diet. Hence, we can’t rely on energy density as the only factor to manage satiety.
Like protein leverage, we see a nutrient leverage effect with other minerals and vitamins. Our body craves these nutrients when we need more of them. Thus foods that contain more of these nutrients per calorie satisfy our cravings with fewer calories.
- Our satiety analysis, minerals we lack in our modern diet, like potassium and calcium, appear to have a statistically significant relationship with calorie intake.
- Consuming foods and meals containing more priority nutrients aligns with consuming fewer calories.
- In our Micros Masterclass, we guide people to identify their priority micronutrients. People experience greater satiety and vitality with these meals. Not only are these meals harder to overeat, thus providing short-term satiation, but they also satisfy our cravings, driving longer-term satiety.
- The problem with this approach is that most people don’t want to track their food to identify their priority nutrients and pursue foods and meals that contain them. Getting enough protein without excess energy from fat and carbs has the biggest impact. Dialling in your priority nutrients is the icing on the cake of satiety.
One question that often arises when optimising satiety is context and personalisation.
What provides satiety for one person may not be the same for everyone.
Can we personalise our food choices to achieve even greater satiety?
With enough data, we can personalise our food and meal choices to maximise satiety, but it gets a bit more complex.
- What your body craves right now will depend on what you ate recently, your body composition and your activity. For example, if you have more lean mass or work out regularly, you will crave more protein.
- Or if your blood glucose is lower, your body is likely craving carbs, but if your glucose is high and you’re hungry, you likely need protein and nutrients, not carbs.
For more on this, check out How to Use Your Glucose as a Fuel Gauge (A Pictorial Guide).
- The foods we overeat are often comfort foods we associate with a happy memory (e.g., Grandma’s cookies) or the comfort food we always eat while watching our favourite TV show). At the same time, your kryptonite foods probably aren’t high protein, high-fibre foods like egg whites, steak, broccoli and asparagus.
- Our satiety analysis indicates some variance in the satiety factors for different dietary approaches (e.g. low protein, high protein, low fat and low carb).
For more details, see Personalised Satiety: Optimising Satiety for Low Carb OR Low Fat and Why Protein Leverage Breaks.
- Like nutrient leverage, you’ll only get an incremental benefit from tracking your food to identify your personalised satiety factors. Worrying about personalisation may stop you from benefiting from the simple factors that are easily achievable with foods and meals that work for most people most of the time.
- While we can personalise ranking factors based on different populations and fine-tune our food choices based on the cluster of nutrients that we’re not getting enough of, most people will benefit from a simple approach that uses the dominant factors that work for most people most of the time.
If you’re eager to track your food to identify your priority nutrients and the foods and meals that contain them, you can take our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
Finally, while satiety per calorie focuses on calories in, the energy out side of the equation is also important. The good news is that higher satiety foods and meals will help here too.
- During weight loss, we often lose our metabolically active lean mass, which leads to a downregulation of metabolic rate.
- Ensuring your diet has adequate protein, a major component of the satiety per calorie equation, minimises muscle loss. Hence, your basal metabolic rate will stay higher.
- Prioritising protein, combined with resistance training, can also increase muscle mass which means you will ‘burn’ more calories.
- When they start to lose weight with a higher satiety diet, many people feel lighter and more energetic. More activity means more energy out and easier weight loss.
- Conversely, simply cutting calories and using sheer willpower to eat less of the same foods often leaves us feeling cold, tired and lethargic.
- Each of the macronutrients has different thermic effects in your body. Fat and carbs are fairly efficient energy sources, while protein is much less efficient.
|20 – 35%
|5 – 15%
|3 – 15%
- Because it takes minimal effort for your body to digest and assimilate, processed foods are super-efficient energy sources. If food is scarce, efficiency is great, but if you’re trying to lose weight in an environment of energy abundance, you want your food to be inefficient.
- While most of the protein from your diet goes to building and repairing your muscles and organs, making neurotransmitters, etc., the protein converted to energy also gives off a lot of heat, which helps you keep warm.
- Fibre is also a poor fuel source for your body; only a small portion can be converted to energy or stored.
- The thermic effect of food will effectively decrease the denominator (calories) and increase the overall satiety per calorie.
- Changing what we eat influences how much we eat.
- Satiety per calorie helps you make better food choices to reduce your energy intake without as much conscious willpower to restrict and fight against your appetite.
- Rather than deprivation and restriction, satiety per calorie focuses on nourishing your body the nutrients without excess energy.
- Many factors influence satiety, including protein %, energy density, fibre and micronutrients. We can combine these to create an improved model that empowers us to feel satisfied and energised for longer with fewer calories.
- We can personalise satiety per calorie by tracking your food or testing your blood glucose to give your body precisely what they need when needed. But, for most people, starting with a more generic approach is ideal.
Over the years, we’ve created a range of resources to help people optimise their satiety and nutrient density.
If you don’t identify with a particular diet tribe (e.g. low carb, low fat, high protein), you can download our high satiety per calorie food lists here.
If you prefer a low-carb diet, you can download the high-satiety low-carb foods here.
If you prefer a lower-fat diet, you can download our list of high-satiety, low-fat foods here.
We also have a Low Fat NutriBoosters optimised for satiety and nutrient density.
If you’re in a hurry to lose weight, you may be interested in our High Protein:Energy NutriBooster Recipes.