Patrick Rowe, Ph.D.
MetabolicMD Florida Clinical Director
Cognitive science- the study of how the mind works, functions, and behaves – stems from a variety of disciplines such as philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, and artificial intelligence and aims to understand how the brain makes a decision or performs a task. Bear with me here, there is a point to this. One of the key takeaways from this field is that decision-making, especially routine daily decisions, requires us to simplify complex information in order to make decisions that will move us toward a desired outcome. Without being aware of it, this is something we all do countless times on a daily basis. Said another way, we don’t need to understand in great detail how things work in order to successfully navigate our day. For example, most of us enjoy a cup of coffee shortly after waking up in the morning but very few of us understand exactly how modern coffee machines work or the chemistry that leads to a great cup of coffee. Fill it up with water and hit the button. Easy.
With that being said, how do you think about different types of foods? To simply food choices, we all tend to categorize foods based on various criteria that differ from person to person. Some people focus on calories (high-calorie foods vs. low-calorie foods), others view food choices from the perspective of whole foods and processed foods. Still others have criteria that define foods as either healthy or unhealthy. For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on a different, less common way to classify and think about foods- satiety to calorie ratio.
Satiety is defined as a state of non-eating, characterized by the absence of hunger, which follows at the end of a meal and arises from the consequences of food ingestion. Said another way, eating a very filling, satisfying meal or snack will lead to satiety. The urge to continue eating will dramatically diminish, and the drive to snack in the hours after eating such a meal or snack will be lessened. Who wouldn’t want to finish a meal and feel full, though not overly so? It’s hard to argue that this isn’t a practical goal when choosing foods to eat as a snack or foods that can be assembled together into a meal.
Now that we’ve covered the concept of satiety, let’s turn to an understanding of energy density (calorie density). Think of all foods on a spectrum from very low energy density (i.e., iceberg lettuce) to very high energy density (i.e., olive oil). Foods that are very low in calories per weight or volume will have a very low energy density, while foods that are very high in calories per weight or volume will have a very high energy density. Given the choice between an apple and a candy bar, which one will have a lower energy density if considering an equivalent serving size such as 100 grams? The apple will have fewer calories per 100 grams; lower energy density than a candy bar.
Now let’s tie these two concepts together to explain the satiety to calorie ratio of foods and meals. The way I like to think of this concept goes like this: you could eat a 500-calorie meal that completely fills you up and leaves you satisfied, or you could eat a 500-calorie meal that leaves you still hungry and wanting to eat more. Which is the better option when it comes to weight control? Yes, given the two options, the 500-calorie meal that satisfies your hunger will represent a more effective strategy to lose weight or maintain weight. The former represents a meal with higher satiety per calorie; more filling for the same amount of total calories compared to the latter option. Things get really interesting when you realize you can assemble a meal with fewer calories than you typically eat but it’s more filling at the same time. Eat fewer calories but don’t feel deprived at all. Win, win.
While there is no universally agreed-upon perfect way to calculate the satiety of a variety of foods, it’s largely accepted that protein and fiber promote satiety. In this way, food that contains a larger percentage of total calories as protein will be more filling than food with less protein. Similarly, food that contains a larger amount of fiber (grams) will be more filling than food with less fiber. Many foods contain both protein and fiber in varying amounts, and, calorie for calorie, foods with a significant amount of both protein and fiber will have an additive effect on satiety. Beans are a good example of a food with a significant amount of both protein and fiber.
It’s important to emphasize, in the context of metabolic health, the difference between planning a meal with satiety alone as the goal versus planning a meal with a high satiety-to-calorie ratio as the goal. The strategy for the latter goal would limit foods or additions that add calories without contributing significantly to the overall satiety of the meal, whereas the strategy for the former would not.
High-protein foods (protein represents the majority of calories):
Fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel)
Shellfish (oysters, mussels)
High-fiber foods (low in calories):
High in protein and fiber:
Beans (garbanzo, kidney, black, lupini)
Tempeh (soybeans, peas)
There is a useful online calculator (https://www.satietypercalorie.com/) that gives you a satiety score for lots of different foods or you can plug in the nutrition label info for a food item to get its satiety score. A higher score is better; more filling per calorie. Below are several foods and their respective satiety scores.
Snickers bar = 0.1
Cheetos = 6
Purely Elizabeth original ancient grains granola (7g added sugar) = 14
Ice cream = 23
Purely Elizabeth keto vanilla almond granola (4g added sugar) = 27
Apple = 38
Kellogs Raisin Bran = 35
Cheerios = 44
Oatmeal = 55
Medium size turnip (raw) = 56 (based on 122g serving)
Avinola keto granola (no added sugar) = 60
Fried egg = 62
Cooked spinach = 65
Broccoli = 69
Black beans = 75
Asparagus = 73
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) = 74
Simply Snackin black bean chicken snack bar= 80
Catalina Crunch keto cereal = 84
Brami snacking lupini beans = 100
Nutritional yeast = 100
What are some easy ways to increase the satiety-to-calorie ratio of a meal?
(More fiber) Add a turnip, greens, and/or other non-starchy high-fiber vegetables to scrambled eggs.
(More fiber) Add sliced cucumber, green peppers, and/or other non-starchy high-fiber vegetables to a sandwich or to accompany a protein-heavy sandwich (instead of potato chips, French fries, or piece of fruit).
(More fiber) Pair the protein component of a meal with broccoli, cauliflower, cauliflower rice, or asparagus
(More protein) Add canned tuna/salmon/sardines to a side salad with little or no protein
(More protein & fiber) Add lupini beans to meals or salads that have little or no protein
(More fiber) Got some leftover chicken/steak/fish? Make a quick green smoothie using non-starchy high-fiber vegetables (kale, spinach, etc.) to pair with your protein for a quick meal (use low-carb/no-sugar bases such as nut milks and/or lemon/lime juice along with ginger and a bit of artificial sweetener such as Stevia drops).