If you’ve ever tried to lose weight by cutting your calorie intake, you may have experienced the common dieter’s dilemma. You know you should be eating less, but you’re so insatiably hungry. Hunger can cause you to binge eat at your next meal or snack throughout the day. Luckily, there are several low calorie foods that keep you full.
Once you start incorporating more filling foods into your diet, you may find it much easier to stay on track.
What Makes You Feel Full?
In 1995, a group of researchers tested a wide range of foods and ranked them according to how long they made you feel full. They turned these results into a scale called the Satiety Index. Foods that score above 100 are more filling, and foods that score below 100 are less filling.1
Based on the research, scientists believe that filling foods tend to have these characteristics:
High In Fiber
High-fiber foods add bulk or volume, making you feel full. Your body doesn’t actually digest fiber. It just passes on through, absorbing water as it moves through your body. Because fiber isn’t digested, it doesn’t contribute calories to the foods you eat.2,3,4
Studies show that protein is the most filling macronutrient. It can make you feel satiated for longer than carbohydrates or fats. Eating protein in a meal or snack may help boost satiety hormones, like ghrelin and GLP-1.5,6
High Volume Foods
Foods that contain high amounts of water or air can be quite filling.7,8 This may help keep your calorie intake down and your satiety level up. The volumetrics diet is centered around high volume foods.9
Low density foods have a low number of total calories for their weight. Foods that are high in fiber or water and low in fat, for example, are in this class of food. These types of foods are very filling. Eating them allows you to eat more while still cutting back on calories.10,11,12
While you may not associate dietary fat with “low calorie” foods, studies show that fat can be quite satiating. Feeling satiated can lead you to limit your food intake. So, small portions of healthy fats (think avocado or salmon, not potato chips) may be a smart choice.13,14
Low Calorie Foods That Keep You Full for Longer
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Like most vegetables, they are a high-volume, low calorie food.15
This group of vegetables provides an excellent source of dietary fiber. This can help you feel full without eating an abundance of calories.16
Serving ideas: If you’re eating a dense food like rice, substitute half of the volume with chopped cauliflower. You’ll still get the volume and mouth feel, but you’ll cut down on the calories.
Soup is the ultimate high volume food due to its high water content. All of that warm, brothy goodness can fill you up with a low amount of calories. Research shows that soup stays in your stomach and makes you feel full for a long time – even compared to solid foods made with the same ingredients.17
Go for broth-based soups rather than creamy soups or chowders to keep your calorie intake down.
Serving ideas: A chunky tomato-based soup filled with vegetables and legumes might hit the spot. Or how about a savory lentil soup topped with a spoonful of greek yogurt and fresh herbs?
Popcorn is a high fiber, whole grain food that ranks high on the Satiety Index. Popcorn is twice as filling as other “healthy snacks,” like peanuts. One reason why it’s so satisfying is that popcorn simply takes up a lot of space in your stomach. It’s a high volume food that’s naturally low in calories.18,19
If you’re trying to lose weight, stick to plain, air-popped popcorn. Butter and oil, while delicious, will add calories.
Serving ideas: Pop some kernels on your stovetop and sprinkle on chili lime seasoning for a satisfying snack.
Lentils, Beans, and Peas
Legumes like lentils, beans, and peas are low in fat and high in protein, dietary fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals.20 This high protein and high fiber combination can make you feel full, delay hunger, and lower your calorie intake for your next meal.21
Serving ideas: Make or buy a batch of veggie patties that you can heat up when hunger strikes. Try topping the patty with mustard and veggies and wrapping it in lettuce for a low calorie option.
Cottage cheese is typically high in protein and low in fat and carbs. One cup of low fat cottage cheese provides 28 grams of protein and only 163 calories.22 The high protein content makes this a smart snack or meal. It can help you feel full on a relatively low amount of calories.
Serving ideas: Make it savory by topping it with garlic salt and pumpkin seeds. Make it sweet by mixing in some berries and cinnamon.
Eggs are a great source of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.23 They are so nutrient dense that they’re sometimes called “nature’s multivitamin.”24 Studies show that eating eggs for breakfast may help you lose weight by making you feel full and reducing cravings for other foods.25
Serving ideas: For an easy, on-the-go snack, a hard boiled egg is hard to beat. Make several in advance, so you can grab one when you want a snack. If you have time to cook, you could prepare scrambled eggs and top them with herbs, seeds, and spices for a filling breakfast.
Oatmeal is low in calories and high in protein. It also has plenty of fiber, which stays in your stomach and can help you feel full for a long time. For this reason, many people love to eat it for breakfast. It can also make a great midday snack if you need a pick-me-up between meals.26
Serving ideas: Mix in some chia seeds and peanut butter to make it even more hearty.
Whey is a complete, high quality protein that contains all the essential amino acids.27 Compared to other types of protein, whey can be digested easily.28 It might help you lose weight by increasing your intake of protein, reducing your appetite, and supporting your metabolism.29
Serving ideas: Whip up a smoothie with whey protein powder, almond milk, frozen fruit, kale, and a source of fat like almond butter. Blend the ingredients and enjoy for breakfast or a snack.
Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and fat. It may help curb snack cravings and reduce your overall calorie intake for the day. One study found that snacking on Greek yogurt led to reduced hunger and increased fullness for the rest of the day.30
Serving ideas: Eat it by the spoonful for a snack, or top it with some berries, nuts, and high-fiber granola for breakfast.
Fruit can make a delicious, satisfying snack. But a lot of fruit is high in sugar, which bumps up the calorie count. If you’re looking for a type of fruit that will keep you feeling full, berries are a great choice. Berries, like blackberries and strawberries, are higher in fiber and lower in sugar than many other fruits.31
This high fiber, low sugar combination can keep you fuller for longer. It also keeps your blood sugar in check. The more balanced your blood sugar, the more satisfied you’ll feel post-meal.32,33
Serving ideas: Grab a handful of berries as a snack, or sprinkle them over your oatmeal in the morning.
Fish And Lean Meat
Fish and lean meat, like skinless chicken or pork with fat trimmed off, are great choices for low calorie foods that may help keep you full for a long time. Lean proteins like these are great sources of dietary protein, which can help you feel satiated and lose weight.34
Serving ideas: To keep the calorie count low, prepare your protein in a simple way: either by steaming or grilling with some healthy oil. Top it with lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and spices to boost the flavor.
Use This Information To Eat Smarter
When you’re trying to lose weight, you may be tempted to obsess over things like “diet foods” and calorie intake. Rather than deprive yourself by skipping meals, you may be better suited eating foods that fill you up and make you feel satisfied.
Look for foods that give you the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to calories. These foods tend to be whole foods that are high in fiber, protein, and yes, some fat. If you’re craving something hearty, consider grabbing a high volume, low density food (like soup) that can keep you full for longer.
The key here is to keep yourself from feeling desperately hungry. This is where many people falter from their good intentions of eating healthfully. Be kind to yourself, and nourish your body with foods that will fuel you for a long time.
Healthy Food Swaps To Help Support Weight Loss And Start A Better Diet Today