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Diets Decoded: Here’s What You Need to Know About The Volumetrics Diet


We’re going to let you in on a little secret. Most popular healthy diets that are touted for weight loss—from Paleo to Mediterranean and vegetarian—share many of the same basic principles. All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles. In this column, we’ll be breaking them down for you, one by one, so you can figure out which (if any) is right for you. We’ll explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life.

If cutting calories isn’t helping you hit your weight loss goals, we’re not surprised. An alternative strategy that might work for some people is eating for volume, which involves including healthy and filling foods with each meal–that just happen to be low in calories. This is called the Volumetrics Diet. Read on to find out how it works, and then decide if it’s right for you or not.

What is the Volumetrics Diet?

As with any diet, the Volumetrics Diet simply offers one approach to attaining your weight loss and health goals. Not a new diet by any means, this tried-and-true diet, which was created by a nutrition and obesity researcher at Penn State, follows a rather simple principle. By including high-volume (think filling and nutrient-dense), low-calorie foods at each meal, you can keep your calorie intake in check without feeling unsatisfied or deprived.

On this diet, you can plan to eat three full meals and two snacks daily, with the option for adding desserts some days–as long as you’re staying within your caloric recommendations. Nothing is off-limits on this eating plan, but there are some foods that you’ll want to limit or avoid.

The Volumetrics Four Food Categories

Successfully following this plan requires an understanding of its four main categories of foods, with most of your food volume coming from foods in category one, and the least of your foods (if any) coming from category four. The goal is to stay within your unique daily caloric intake recommendations.

These categories include:

Category 1: Very Low-Density Foods

Think non-starchy fruits and vegetables such as berries, melons, cucumbers, asparagus and broth-based soups. These foods can be eaten in higher quantities throughout the day when following this diet because they are high in nutrients and water and low in calories. Pile these on your plate!

Category 2: Low-Density Foods

These foods include whole grains (brown rice and whole wheat pasta, for example), starchy fruits and vegetables (such as bananas, corn and potatoes), legumes, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. These foods can be eaten in reasonable quantities, paying careful attention to how they affect your daily caloric intake.

Category 3: Medium-Density Foods

These foods include full-fat dairy products, meats with higher fat content and breads. These foods can be eaten on the diet, but not as often as foods from categories one and two due to their lower nutrient density and higher caloric density.

Category 4: High-Density Foods

While there aren’t any foods you can’t eat on the Volumetrics Diet, high-density foods should be limited. These foods contain the fewest nutrients and the highest levels of calories, so you want to avoid them when possible. Some examples of high-density foods include crackers, chips, candy, cookies, (all the highly-processed foods we always think are best avoided!) nuts, butter, and oil. (Technically, alcohol falls into this category, except it really doesn’t offer any nutrients and is full of calories. It’s best to keep this out if you’re really trying to lose weight.)

What You Eat on the Volumetric Diet

High-volume, low-calorie foods tend to contain higher amounts of water and fiber, so these are the foods you’ll focus on eating the most while on the Volumetrics Diet. Why? Because when you eat foods high in water and fiber, you feel fuller faster, meaning you don’t have to eat as many calories to feel satiated.

RELATED: Only 5% of Americans Eat Enough Fiber—Here’s Why You Should Eat More

Foods with lower amounts of fiber and water, on the other hand, require you to eat more of them to feel full, regardless of how many calories they contain.

Here’s a potential list of foods to include plenty of in your daily meals on this diet:

  • Fresh fruits and fresh or frozen vegetables (especially those high in water and fiber)
  • Beans and legumes (in moderation)
  • Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, whole grain bread)
  • Low-fat dairy products (low-fat Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir)
  • Lean meats and proteins (chicken without the skin, lean beef, low-fat fish, egg whites)
  • Water (vs. soda or other sugary drinks)

Notice that the medium- and high-density foods aren’t listed here? They aren’t 100% “not allowed,” but the more you eat lower-density foods, the better.

What You Don’t Eat on the Volumetrics Diet

We’ll repeat it–there are no strict rules around what you “can’t eat” on the Volumetrics Diet, but there are foods you’ll want to avoid or limit if you want to see the weight drop faster. As you can imagine, higher-calorie foods that are low in nutrients shouldn’t take up a lot of room on your plate, but if you must include them, you’ll want to limit them and make sure they fit into your daily calorie goals.

Here are some examples of high-calorie and low-volume foods to avoid on the Volumetrics Diet:

  • Full-fat dairy products (full-fat yogurt, sour cream, and cheeses)
  • Fatty meat (regular ground beef, bacon, sausages, chicken with skin)
  • Processed and sweetened foods (cookies, candy, soda, sweetened coffee drinks)
  • Refined foods (white bread, cake, and other baked goods)

Sometimes we all need something sweet or that we know isn’t the healthiest option. One thing that works for many people on this diet is that the rules aren’t super strict. So if you really want to have a brownie now and then, you can, as long as it fits into your daily caloric recommendations.

Pros and Cons of the Volumetric Diet

If you’re the type of person who likes to finish everything on your plate (whether or not you’re still hungry), fixing small portions of food for each meal will leave you feeling unsatisfied and wanting more, regardless of how many calories you consume. This will not be a problem on this diet because the idea is to fill your plate with the right foods, so you feel as full as possible at each meal.


The Volumetrics Diet is …

High in Fiber, Water & Nutrient-Dense

The foods you eat on this diet are typically higher in fiber and water content, and are more nutrient-dense than many other foods. This means you’ll get way more bang for each bite. You’ll also be better hydrated and will likely see an improvement in your digestion, too.

Sure to Leave You Feeling Satisfied & Full

By eating for volume, it may be easier to tune in to your body’s cues that it’s full because your stomach will feel full. When you fill up with high-volume, low-calorie foods, you’ll leave each meal feeling satisfied, without having consumed more calories than you need.


With no foods being specifically restricted, it may be less stressful for those who have trouble sticking to stricter diets. Rather than avoiding high-calorie foods altogether, the diet encourages avoiding these foods when possible, but indulging in them from time to time.


On the other hand, the Volumetrics diet …

Lacks Strict Rules and May Lack Variety

Because no foods are off limits and it is somewhat flexible, it can be difficult for some to follow it correctly. In some cases, diet followers may limit their food choices too much, and as a result become bored with it and abandon it altogether.

Might Be Too Low in Fat

Because fats such as nuts and oils fall into the high-density category of foods, some may limit these foods too much. It’s important to make sure you get some healthy fats on your plate. And if you decide to follow the Volumetrics Diet, you’ll want to monitor your healthy fat intake.

Requires a Significant Amount of Meal Prep

In order to eat the recommended foods and follow the diet successfully, there will be a lot of at-home cooking which can be quite time-consuming. For those who are busy or don’t enjoy cooking, this diet may not be the best choice.

The Bottom Line

You don’t have to settle for eating tiny portions of food, leaving you feeling tired and “hangry.” Whether you decide to follow the Volumetrics Diet or not, choosing high-volume foods are good for anyone’s diet.

At Nutritious Life, we believe you set yourself up to look and feel like the best possible version of yourself when you eat whole, nutrient-dense foods. And, with each healthy food choice you make, you’re more likely to feel inspired to exercise, you sleep better, and the cycle repeats.

Thinking About Nutrient-Dense Meals? Try These Delicious Recipes

Watermelon Pizza

Watermelon is low in calories, which makes it an ideal snack to fit into your day. It’s high water content makes it super hydrating, and vitamin A and C are good for your skin and hair, too.

Celery Smoothie

Celery makes a great snack all by itself, but add it to a soup, as a salad topping, or try this smoothie recipe for more bang. One cup of chopped celery contains just 14 calories and about 2 grams of fiber, so it’s a great option to add to your meal to feel fuller without adding many calories.

5 Simple Salmon Recipes You’ll Use Over and Over Again

Salmon is full of protein and bursting with omega-3s. One 3-ounce serving of salmon contains about 17 grams of protein, which is almost half of the recommended amount for women ages 14 and older.

7 Easy Egg Recipes for Delicious, Protein-Rich Meals

Eggs are good for more than just breakfast. And, with about 4 grams of protein, just 72 calories, and a ton of nutrients per egg, they’re a great way to fill your plate. Swap in egg whites for even fewer calories.

7 Healthy Chicken Dinners that Actually Aren’t Boring

Chicken is another great source of lean protein to fit into your meals, helping you feel full without overdoing it on calories.

(Image: Shutterstock)

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