This article was co-authored by Tara Coleman and by wikiHow staff writer, Caroline Heiderscheit. Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist who has a private practice in San Diego, California. With over 15 years of experience, Tara specializes in sports nutrition, body confidence, and immune system health and offers personalized nutrition, corporate wellness, and online learning courses. She received a BS in Biology from James Madison University and spent six years in the pharmaceutical industry as an analytical chemist before founding her practice. Tara has been featured on NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, and Dr. Oz The Good Life as well as in Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Self, and Runner’s World.
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Whether it’s due to a mental or physical illness, an injury, or a high baseline metabolism, low appetite can make it so hard to eat as much as you’d like to. When you’re underweight, trying to put on some pounds may feel like a total uphill battle—but there are actually so many great strategies out there to help you get more food into your body everyday. For all of the best, science-backed tips on how to eat more food and gain some weight, read on.
7 ways to cut calories without feeling deprived.
One of the most common pitfalls to weight loss is an all-or-nothing approach aimed at dropping pounds in a hurry. When you start an unrealistic diet plan, you quickly learn that such diets lead to nagging hunger and cravings for forbidden foods. After a few weeks of this, most people return to their old eating habits, complaining that “diets don’t work.” But what if you could actually lose weight by eating more food — simply by making a few changes to your everyday food choices?
The truth is that smart weight loss is not about starving yourself or restricting yourself to a few foods. It’s about consistently making better food choices, and slowly changing bad eating and exercise habits into more healthful ones.
Here are seven choices that will help you lose weight while eating more food — and will satisfy your taste buds at the same time:
- Whole-grain foods such as whole wheat, brown rice, whole-grain breads, cereals, and waffles are a much better choice than refined white foods because they’re generally higher in fiber, more nutritious, and more filling. Eat 3 cups of air-popped popcorn instead of 1 ounce of potato chips (about 15 chips) and you’ll cut 65 calories and get a lot more food to crunch. Instead of having one refined-flour pancake with butter and syrup, you can enjoy two whole-wheat buttermilk pancakes topped with mixed berries for the same 270 calories.
- Foods high in water are naturally low in calories because of their fluid content. Fruits, vegetables, soups, gelatins, and hot cereal are 80%-95% water, while foods like yogurt, puddings, eggs, pasta, beans, and seafood are 60%-75% water. Eating 1 3/4 cup of grapes takes longer and is much more satisfying than eating 1/4 cup of raisins, although both portions have 110 calories. A cup of minestrone soup (125 calories) and a tossed salad with light dressing (100 calories) is a satisfying lunch for 225 calories. Compare that to a chicken salad croissant weighing in at 550 calories, or a 6-inch tuna sub at 530 calories.
- Lower-fat foods can really add up to calorie savings because fat has more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates. And when you take out some — but not necessarily all — of the fat, foods still taste great. Eight ounces of skim milk has 86 calories, while the same amount of whole milk has 150 calories. A 2-ounce serving of tuna packed in water has 66 calories but when it’s packed in oil, the calories jump to 110. Light mayonnaise, light salad dressings, and lower-fat dairy are all easy ways to cut calories while satisfying your taste buds.
- Treats that satisfy your sweet tooth don’t have to bust the calorie bank. Sorbet, fat-free frozen yogurt, light or slow-churned ice creams, simple cookies, and fruit-based desserts have a fraction of the calories of super-premium ice cream, rich cookies and other decadent desserts. If you polish off a pint of super-premium ice cream, you can easily pack on 1,000 calories. Instead of eating out of the container (always a no-no), stock your freezer with portion-controlled novelty bars such as Breyer’s Double Churned light ice cream bars, Skinny Cow ice cream cones, Fudgsicles, or Edy’s Slow Churned ice cream bars, which satisfy with only 100-150 calories. Cookie lovers can enjoy two Fig Newtons, Pirouettes, or Nutter Butters for less than 130 calories instead of a single Mrs. Field’s chocolate chip cookie for 210 calories.
- Fast food is considered a sure route to weight gain because many of our favorites are over-the-top in fat and calories (as well as sodium). Enjoying an occasional burger and fries won’t do in your diet, but many people frequent fast-food outlets regularly. Next time you go to your favorite fast-food place, choose one of the better bets, such as a grilled chicken sandwich; side or entree salad with light dressings; chili or a baked potato topped with chili; or yogurt and fruit parfaits. Choose a grilled chicken sandwich on whole-grain bread with lettuce and tomato and a side fruit salad for 320 calories instead of a Big Mac and medium fries for 920 calories, and you’ll save 600 calories! A bacon cheeseburger can set you back 1,000 calories, but an entree Southwest salad with grilled chicken and light dressing has only 360 calories. Also, skip the bacon, special creamy sauces, and fried foods.
- Muffins, scones, doughnuts, and bagels can be deceptively high in calories. A cinnamon chip scone (490 calories), large bran muffin (370 calories), bagel with cream cheese (500 calories), or doughnut (250 calories) go down fast — and usually leave you hungry again in a few hours because they’re high in sugar and/or refined flour. Instead start your day with whole-grain cereal, skim milk and fruit (230 calories); an egg and two slices of whole-grain toast with a teaspoon of butter or margarine (300 calories); or oatmeal made with skim milk and topped with a few nuts (250 calories). And don’t try to save calories by giving up breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast control calories throughout the day better than breakfast skippers.
- Dips and spreads can do serious damage. They can be addictive, and when you add in the calories from the chips or other dippers, they add up quickly. Two tablespoons of French onion dip or Cheez Whiz have 60-90 calories. But if you switch to salsa, hummus, or fat-free bean dip, you can enjoy more satisfying dips for 15-50 calories per 2 tablespoons and are more likely to eat a reasonable portion. Slice a whole-wheat pita pocket (130 calories) into 8 wedges for healthy 16-calorie dippers — about the same as a single, much less satisfying cracker from a box.
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.
How to manage your weight without being hungry.
Have you tried to lose weight by cutting down the amount of food you eat? Do you still feel hungry and not satisfied after eating? Or have you avoided trying to lose weight because you’re afraid of feeling hungry all the time? If so, you are not alone. Many people throw in the towel on weight loss because they feel deprived and hungry when they eat less. But there is another way. Aim for a slow, steady weight loss by decreasing calorie intake while maintaining an adequate nutrient intake and increasing physical activity. You can cut calories without eating less nutritious food. The key is to eat foods that will fill you up without eating a large amount of calories.
If I cut calories, won’t I be hungry?
Research shows that people get full by the amount of food they eat, not the number of calories they take in. You can cut calories in your favorite foods by lowering the amount of fat and or increasing the amount of fiber-rich ingredients, such as vegetables or fruit.
Let’s take macaroni and cheese as an example. The original recipe uses whole milk, butter, and full-fat cheese. This recipe has about 540 calories in one serving (1 cup).
Here’s how to remake this recipe with fewer calories and less fat:
- Use 2 cups non-fat milk instead of 2 cups whole milk.
- Use 8 ounces light cream cheese instead of 21⁄4 cups full-fat cheddar cheese.
- Use 1 tablespoon butter instead of 2 or use 2 tablespoons of soft trans-fat free margarine.
- Add about 2 cups of fresh spinach and 1 cup diced tomatoes (or any other veggie you like).
Your redesigned mac and cheese now has 315 calories in one serving (1 cup). You can eat the same amount of mac and cheese with 225 fewer calories.
What foods will fill me up?
To be able to cut calories without eating less and feeling hungry, you need to replace some higher calorie foods with foods that are lower in calories and fat and will fill you up. In general, this means foods with lots of water and fiber in them. The chart below will help you make smart food choices that are part of a healthy eating plan.
|These foods will fill you up with less calories. Choose them more often…||These foods can pack more calories into each bite. Choose them less often…|
|Fruits and Vegetables (prepared without added fat)||Fried foods|
|Spinach, broccoli, tomato, carrots, watermelon, berries, apples||Eggs fried in butter, fried vegetables, French fries|
|Low-fat and fat-free milk products||Full-fat milk products|
|Low- or fat-free milk, low or fat-free yogurt, low- or fat-free cottage cheese||Full-fat cheese, full-fat ice cream, whole and 2% milk|
|Broth-based soup||Dry snack foods|
|Vegetable-based soups, soups with chicken or beef broth, tomato soups (without cream)||Crackers or pretzels, cookies, chips, dried fruits|
|Whole grains||Higher-fat and higher-sugar foods|
|Brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pastas, popcorn||Croissants,margarine, shortening and butter, doughnuts, candy bars, cakes and pastries|
|Lean meat, poultry and fish||Fatty cuts of meat|
|Grilled salmon, chicken breast without skin, ground beef (lean or extra lean)||Bacon, brisket, ground beef (regular)|
|Legumes (beans and peas)|
|Black, red kidney and pinto beans (without added fat), green peas, black-eyed peas|
A healthy eating plan is one that —
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat free or low-fat milk and milk products.
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
- Stays within your calorie needs.
The number of calories in a particular amount or weight of food is called “calorie density” or “energy density.” Low-calorie-dense foods are ones that don’t pack a lot of calories into each bite.
Foods that have a lot of water or fiber and little fat are usually low in calorie density. They will help you feel full without an unnecessary amount of calories.
Farming animals for meat and dairy requires space and huge amounts of water and feed. The livestock industry alone generates nearly 15% of all man made greenhouse gas emissions. With global meat consumption soaring 500% between 1992 and 2016, it is clear we need to rebalance our diets by prioritising plants and moderating our intake of animal products.
2. Eat more variety
75% of the world’s food supply comes from just 12 plants and five animal species. Greater diversity in our diets is essential as the lack of variety in agriculture is both bad for nature and a threat to food security. With Knorr we have identified the Future 50 Foods that can help reduce the environmental impact of our food system.
3. Use your voice
Right now, the Amazon is burning and the products that we are buying are part of the system that’s driving this devastation. We don’t need to burn or cut down one more tree, there’s more than enough land to grow food to feed 2 billion more people by 2050. Help us press the Government on the issue by demanding deforestation free food.
Roughly 94% of fish stocks are overfished (34%) or maximally sustainably fished (60%) and aquaculture has its own issues. But when responsibly produced, seafood can benefit people, nature and climate. Try a diversity of species from well managed sources, eat lower in the food chain and opt for lower carbon emission seafood. Check out our seafood top tips for more information!
5. Cut the waste
Food waste is a big problem. 30% of the food produced is wasted, with serious repercussions for the environment. In fact, if food waste was a country it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after China and the USA. Reducing waste in your household is simple: freeze anything you can’t eat while it’s fresh and, where possible, buy loose produce so you can select the exact amount that you need.
6. Grow your own food
What’s better than fresh, home-grown produce straight from the garden? As well as being healthy and delicious, it is free from the carbon footprint of shop-bought food.
7. Look for products containing RSPO certified palm oil
Unsustainable palm oil is responsible for large-scale deforestation, putting wildlife like orangutans and tigers under threat, as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the risk of climate change. But rejecting palm oil all together could have unintended consequences as alternatives can be even worse for the environment, with some needing up to nine times as much land to produce. When you’re shopping look for products containing RSPO certified sustainable palm oil.
People today eat way more than they used to — and way more than they need to. This means that they’re constantly taking in more calories than their bodies can burn. Unfortunately, lots of us don’t realize that we’re eating too much because we’ve become so used to seeing (and eating!) large portions.
People who consistently overeat are likely to become overweight. They also risk getting a number of medical problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, breathing and sleeping problems, and even depression. Later in life, people who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
It’s easy to understand why the food industry tends to serve way more food than is necessary: Customers love to feel like they’re getting the best value for their money! But the value meal is no deal when it triples our calories and sets the stage for health problems.
So what can you do to take back control? A good place to start is knowing about two things that can help you eat smart: serving sizes and recommended amounts of different foods.
Help Yourself: The Truth About Serving Sizes
Look at the label on any product package and you’ll see a nutrition information section that gives a serving size for that food. Contrary to popular belief, this serving size is not telling you the amount you should be eating. It’s simply a guide to help you see how many calories and nutrients — as well as how much fat, sugar, and salt — you get from eating a specific quantity of that food.
Sometimes the serving size on a package will be a lot less than you are used to eating. In some cases, like vegetables, it’s perfectly OK (and even a good idea) to eat more than the serving size listed on the package.
But when it comes to foods that are high in calories, fat, or sugar, the serving size can alert you that you may be getting more than is healthy. Let’s say you buy a 3-ounce bag of cookies and you eat the whole bag. If the label shows the serving size is 1 ounce, not only did you have 3 servings, you also had 3 times the listed calories as well as 3 times the sugar.
Eat Smart: What’s Recommended
Serving sizes tell you how much nutrition you’re getting from a particular food. They don’t tell you which foods you need to stay healthy, though. That’s where the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate comes in.
MyPlate is divided into four sections with dairy on the side to represent the five food groups:
There’s a website, ChooseMyPlate.gov, that offers guidelines to help people figure out how much of these foods they should eat based on age, gender, and activity level.
The Divided Plate and Other Portion Tips
Serving sizes on food labels and recommended amounts on the ChooseMyPlate site are usually given in grams, ounces, or cups. Of course, most of us don’t carry around food scales and measuring cups. So how can we translate those amounts into quantities we can relate to? That’s where the following visual cues come in. (Just be warned: Some might seem small, especially to recovering super-sizers!)
One easy way to size up portions if you don’t have any measurements is to use your hand as a guide:
- A clenched fist is about a cup — and a cup is the amount experts recommend for a portion of pasta, rice, cereal, vegetables, and fruit.
- A meat portion should be about as big as your palm.
- Limit the amount of added fats (like butter, mayo, or salad dressing) to the size of the top of your thumb.
Another great way to visualize appropriate portions is to use the concept of the “divided plate.” Think of your plate as divided into four equal sections. Use one of the top quarters for protein. Use the other top quarter for starch, preferably a whole grain. Then fill the bottom half with veggies (or a combination of vegetables and fruit). None of the foods should overlap — or be piled high! Not only will dividing your plate like this help you keep portions under control, it can also help you to balance your meals.
Being aware of realistic portion sizes and using the “divided plate” concept can help you avoid overeating. But sometimes these visual cues can be hard — especially when foods are difficult to measure, like a sandwich. It can also be hard to estimate foods like chips and cookies that you might eat right out of the bag.
More tips for portion control:
- Eat your meals on a smaller plate so your meal looks larger. A sandwich on a dinner-size plate looks lost; on an appetizer plate it looks downright hefty.
- Avoid taking an entire bag of chips or a container of ice cream to the couch. You’re far less likely to overdo it if you put your snack in a bowl, and sit at the table to eat it.
- Don’t eat in front of the TV or other screens.
- Try single-serving size foods to help your body learn what an appropriate portion size is.
- Eat three well-balanced meals (with vegetables, fruit, proteins, and starch) and one or two healthy snacks at regular times throughout the day. Skipping meals or waiting too long between them can make you more likely to overdo it at the next meal.
- Add more salads, other vegetables, and fruit to your diet, especially at the start of a meal. This can help control hunger and give a sense of fullness while controlling calorie intake.
- Try not to rush through your meals. Eat slowly and chew well — giving yourself a chance to feel full before you take more. If you do want seconds, go for more salad or veggies.
- Be aware that most restaurant portions are three or four times the right serving size. Try sharing meals with friends, ordering an appetizer as a main dish, or packing up the extra to take home before you begin to eat.
- Don’t be tempted to go for the giant value meal or the jumbo drink just because they’re only a few cents more than the regular size.
Most important, make it a habit to let your stomach rather than your eyes tell you when you’re done with a meal. The key to maintaining a healthy weight is to listen to your body’s natural signals about when it’s hungry and when it’s full.
Whether it’s a fight with a spouse, a deadline at work, or simply just too much to do, we’ve all got stress. And if you’re faced with a lot of it, it can take hold of your eating habits.
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There’s a definite connection between stress and our appetite — but that connection isn’t the same for everyone, says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD.
Stress causes some people to ignore their hunger cues and refrain from eating for long stretches. For other people, stress turns them into emotional eaters who mindlessly munch.
“Some people overeat when they feel stressed, and other people lose track of their appetite,” Dr. Albers says. “Those who stop eating are so focused on their stress that they don’t hear or tune into their hunger cues. Those who overeat are attempting to distract themselves with food.”
Our brains send cues to our bodies when we’re feeling stressed. That’s part of our fight-or-flight response that helps us deal with perceived threats in our environment, Dr. Albers says.
When you’re feeling stressed, your body sends out cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol can make you crave sugary, salty and fatty foods, because your brain thinks it needs fuel to fight whatever threat is causing the stress.
How stress affects your metabolism
Stress doesn’t only influence your eating habits. Studies show it can affect your metabolism, too.
In one recent study, participants who reported one or more stressors during the previous 24 hours, such as arguments with spouses, disagreements with friends, trouble with children or work-related pressures, burned 104 fewer calories than non-stressed women in the seven hours after eating a high-fat meal.
Researchers say experiencing one or more stressful event the day before eating just one high-fat meal (the kind we’re most likely to indulge in when frazzled) can slow the body’s metabolism so much that women could potentially see an 11-pound weight gain over the course of a year.
How to combat stress eating
The daily demands of work and home life — and even the constant presence of electronic devices — puts people at a high risk for stress eating, Dr. Albers says.
The best way to combat stress or emotional eating is to be mindful of what triggers stress eating and to be ready to fight the urge.
“If you are someone who is prone to emotional eating, know your triggers, know what stresses you out and be prepared,” Dr. Albers says.
Part of being prepared is to arm yourself with healthy snacks, Dr. Albers says. Then if you feel the need to snack, you will at least nourish your body.
“Helping to regulate your blood sugar throughout the day is going to keep your body stable and your emotions on a much better playing field,” she adds.
It’s also a good idea to keep things at your workspace that will help reduce anxiety, like a stress ball. Or try taking a five-minute break every once in a while to close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
Regular exercise and making sure you get enough sleep every night also can help you to better handle the challenges that come up every day, she says.
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Want to eat more vegetables? Fuel up with fruits? Ditch added sugars and ingredients you can’t pronounce? Feed your body right with 30 days of real food. Rather than restriction, this 30-day reset focuses on all the delicious whole food you will be eating. Includes 30 days of healthy real food dinners.
This Mediterranean Chicken with Orzo Salad is packed with veggies, whole-wheat orzo and chicken for a balanced, nutritious main. The easy homemade Greek-style vinaigrette pulls together the dishes flavors and adds a boost of healthy fat. Plus, it makes great leftovers.
One easy way to eat more whole foods is to make more of your meals and snacks from scratch. Make hummus from scratch to pair with vegetables as a healthy, filling snack. Homemade hummus is cheaper than store bought versions and you can adjust the flavors to be exactly the way you want. Try adding herbs, spices or other roasted vegetables for something new.
Planning ahead to have whole food-focused snacks available will help you make the healthy choice the easy choice. Bring a bag of mixed nuts with you today in case hunger strikes when you don’t expect it. The healthy fat and protein in nuts will tide you over until your next meal.
Though alcohol can have a place in a healthy eating pattern, it’s a good idea to take a night off every now and then. Try skipping the booze tonight (or for longer) and feel the benefits from better hydrate, better sleep and more. Skipping the alcohol doesn’t need to mean missing out on flavor, swap in one of our easy mocktail recipes tonight instead.
This Hearty Chickpea & Spinach Stew is on the table in just 30 minutes and is bursting with flavor. The protein-rich main adds in frozen spinach, onions and carrots to make increasing the veg in your day easy and delicious.
Take the guesswork out of packaged food by reading the label and ingredients list. Sources of added sugar and sodium come in a variety of names, many of which are unfamiliar. For this challenge, try and avoid packaged foods with a long ingredient list and too much added sugar or sodium.
A healthy eating pattern doesn’t mean cutting out dessert (that would be sad). Instead of skipping sweets all together, make our No-Bake Vegan Date Brownies to satisfy your sweet tooth tonight. It relies on dates for its sweetness so you will get a fiber boost as well.
Use tofu in a stir-fry in place of chicken or beef tonight. Beyond the variety of health benefits of going meatless, it can also help save you money and make your plate more earth-friendly.
Even as the weather cools, grilling out is a great option for making whole foods super flavorful. Grill our Grilled Vegetables in Foil for a simple side that will leave everyone smiling.
This Philly Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers is a veggie-packed take on a classic sandwich. Not only is this dish packed with protein, but also swapping in peppers in place of the bread helps add an extra serving of veggies to your day.
Want an easy dessert that focuses on whole foods and requires little to no prep? Fruit is a perfect treat that is naturally sweet and packed with flavor. Have fruit on hand to make the healthy choice the easy choice when a sweet craving strikes.
Focusing on including a variety of healthy fats in your diet can help you stay fuller and feel more satisfied for longer. Top your salad with nuts and seeds instead of croutons for a healthy fat boost.
Streamline your mornings by making breakfast in advance. Whether it’s one of our healthy overnight oats recipes or a freezer breakfast burrito, there are plenty of delicious breakfast recipes that can be made ahead for grab-and-go.
Beyond being super relaxing, tea boasts some impressive health benefits. From slashing stroke and cancer risk to improving sleep and boosting mood, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy a warm cup of tea tonight.
These Baked Fish Tacos with Avocado are prepared in the oven instead of a deep-fryer to help cut down on the type of fat that can harm our heart. The zesty seasoning and bright pico de gallo give this healthy recipe flavors that everyone will love.
Beans and legumes are some of the most nutritious foods around. They are packed with nutrients, protein and fiber to help you feel full and at your best. Not to mention, they are some of the most affordable proteins in the grocery store. Try them in one of our healthy bean recipes today.
Bring a water bottle with you throughout your day to make meeting your hydration goals easy. Sip whenever you think of or see your bottle, to avoid long periods of time without drinking water.
Set it and forget it with some of our favorite slow-cooker recipes for fall. Using the slow cooker helps cut down on cleanup and lets you have a flavorful dinner ready with minimal active time.
Store bought salad dressings can have added sugar and preservatives to give it a specific taste and texture. In this challenge, make your own using only whole foods, oils and vinegars. Our tasty recipes can get even the biggest skeptic to fall in love with salad.
These Sheet-Pan Fajita Bowls are served on a bed of warm greens for a healthy boost. Not to mention, they are easy to make and leave you with minimal dishes to clean.
One easy way to spruce up your water is by infusing it with fruit, cucumber, citrus and herbs. You can get a specific water bottle meant for infusing, but adding slices directly to your glass works too.
An easy way to up your vegetable and fiber intake is by adding a side salad to your meals. This can be as simple as a bowl of greens paired with homemade salad dressing that can be thrown together in minute
When you are trying to eat more whole foods, it can be helpful to get to know the local producers in your area. Check out a local farmers market or co-op to see what is in season in your area.
Nuts are an easy, shelf-stable snack that is perfect for grab and go. Their combination of healthy fats, protein and fiber will help keep you full for whatever your day holds.
Enjoy the flavors of fall with our Massaged Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Black Beans. This vegetarian salad gets a boost of protein and healthy fats from quinoa, feta and pepitas.
Learn to take the principals of the 30-Day Whole Food Challenge into your daily life by ordering a takeout meal that features whole foods. Whether it’s a salad, grain bowl or hearty stew, there are whole food options at most restaurants when you need a break from cooking.
Think twice before cracking open a can of soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage. Seltzer is naturally sugar-free and can help you get your fizzy fix with no added calories.
Believe it or not, popcorn is actually a whole grain. This fiber-rich whole food is perfect for snacking. Make your own to help you control the added fat and sodium.
Try our Salmon & Quinoa Bowls with Green Beans, Olives & Feta tonight. This dish showcases Mediterranean flavors with nutritious vegetables, filling protein and whole grains for a balanced dinner.
Congratulations! You are almost finished with the 30-Day Whole Food Challenge. Celebrate this healthy-eating refresh with one of our delicious mocktail recipes.
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker. She has co-authored two books for the popular Dummies Series (as Shereen Jegtvig).
Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.
If you’ve ever felt like eating with or without feeling hunger, you’ve experienced appetite. Appetite is important to your overall health, and the lack of one could be a sign of a health problem.
There are a variety of factors that can lead to an increased or decreased appetite. Additionally, you can take steps to stimulate your appetite when it’s low, like learning what to eat when you have no appetite.
What Is Appetite?
Appetite is the natural desire a person feels to eat food. It differs from hunger, which is the body’s response to not having enough food. A person can be hungry with no appetite, have a strong appetite with no signs of hunger, or be hungry with an appetite.
While there are many signs to tell if a person has an appetite, the primary one is feelings of hunger. Hunger can show itself in many ways, including:
- Cravings for food
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stomach rumbles
While hunger is a physical feeling and manifests itself in the symptoms listed above, appetite is an emotional and mental feeling which causes a strong desire for a certain type or flavor of food.
Appetite isn’t constant—it can vary from day to day. For example. a person’s emotional state (such as feeling excitement, stress, or boredom) or the availability of preferred foods (if there are few foods in your home you enjoy, you might not feel as strong of a desire to eat them) may influence it.
Lack of appetite, meanwhile, can be caused by emotional stressors, medications, chronic illnesses or conditions, or even a loss of sense of smell or taste.
Factors That Affect Appetite
Appetite can be impacted by a number of factors:
- Diet: What you eat and how often can affect your appetite. For example, one study from 2011 found that in men with obesity trying to lose weight eating a high protein diet improved appetite control and satiety. The findings from a 2016 study suggest that a low-carb diet is better for satiety than a low-fat diet.
- Medical conditions: Several illnesses can contribute to a reduction in appetite, namely bacterial and viral infections, cancer, and thyroid diseases. Diseases that cause a loss of taste or smell may also lessen appetite.
- Medications: Some medicines can increase appetite and lead to weight gain, including antidepressants and antipsychotics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diabetes medications like insulin.
- Mental health: A person’s mood or emotional state may contribute to their desire to eat. Stress can cause a person to over- or under-eat. Certain mental health conditions, like depression and some eating disorders, may also affect appetite.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant people can experience an aversion to certain foods and strong cravings for others. Feelings of nausea or constipation, both common complaints during pregnancy, may decrease appetite.
- Company: The people you eat with can affect your appetite and food choices. A 2015 review of 69 independent studies found that people tend to model the eating patterns and choices of those around them.
How to Increase Your Appetite
If you’re losing weight and have no appetite, it could be due to illness, an emotional issue, or a side effect of treatment. You know you need to eat more to gain the weight back (or at least maintain your current weight), but you just don’t feel like eating anything.
You can try to force yourself to eat, but that may just add to the stress of being sick. Here are some simple ways you can increase your appetite. This advice is also good for caregivers who are trying to help a loved one with a diminished appetite.
Stock Up on Favorite Foods
You’ll find that it’s much easier to eat something you really enjoy, so keep some favorite snacks on hand. If you’re not feeling up to making a trip to the grocery store, consider a grocery delivery service or asking a caregiver, family member, or friend to pick up some of your favorite foods and stock your fridge and shelves with foods you love to eat.
Delivery services can make it easy to shop from home, and you can often receive your food on the same day you order it.
Massive dinners have never looked better.
Digital Editorial Intern
Caroline Roberts writes articles and notifications for CNET. She studies English at Cal Poly, and loves philosophy, Karl the Fog and a strong cup of black coffee.
A big chicken salad is the perfect volumetrics meal.
Has anyone ever told you that your eyes are bigger than your stomach? Or do you find yourself ever wanting to just sit down and eat a big plate of food? For some of us, it doesn’t really matter what we’re eating — we just want to eat a lot of it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a big appetite, but when you choose less than nutritious meals it can put you in a bind. I can’t count the number of times I’ve dug into a big dinner of pizza or nachos only to be laid up with a stomach ache for the rest of the evening.
If you don’t want to give up your daily feasts but are interested in eating healthier , I’ve got good news for you, and it’s called the volumetrics diet, or volume eating. The volumetrics diet is a way of thinking about what you eat that will allow you to consume nutritious food to your heart’s content — all while literally eating less.
What is volume eating and how do I do it?
Meat and vegetables are two volumetrics diet staples.
Fabian Krause / EyeEm
Volumetrics eating is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — you fill most of your plate with food that has a low-energy density, which means it contains less calories per volume. These foods tend to be high in fiber, water and vitamins, so you’re still getting plenty of nutrients. Basically, you get to eat a larger amount of food while taking in less calories.
A volumetrics diet will mainly have you chowing down on vegetables, whole grains and lean protein (more on that later.) Because dietary fats have a high energy density, it may not sound like they fit into volume eating, but if you choose to go this route you should definitely still incorporate a substantial amount of healthy fats into any diet. Fats give you energy that’s necessary for cell growth, organ protection and many more crucial functions. Healthy sources of fats include nuts, seeds and plant-based oils.
Following a volumetrics diet also doesn’t mean that you have to completely give up any foods with high energy density — sustainable diets are all about moderation. You should feel no shame about indulging in a moderate portion of dessert or another sweet. Just make sure that the majority of your diet comes from high-volume foods.
Of course, the same rules as regular diets still apply — if you eat too many high volume foods and consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. If you’re concerned about eating the right number of calories, it may be worth it to try counting calories.
Why should I try it?
If you’re interested in losing weight, it may be worth it to give volume eating a shot.
Perhaps you find yourself eating enough for your energy needs, but never really feel “full.” Or, you want to snack just to keep your hands busy, but aren’t actually hungry. Maybe you’re even trying to lose weight without feeling deprived. All of those are solid reasons to try the volumetrics diet. This style of eating allows you to eat large quantities of many foods so that you feel full without taking in excess calories.
Since volume eating is so flexible, almost anyone can make it work for their dietary requirements, but it may be more alluring to select groups of people.
Really, volume eating is good for anyone who just likes eating a lot. And the power of volume eating to make you feel full is backed up by science — research suggests that people feel more satiated when they eat a larger perceived volume of food, even when the total calories remained the same.
High-volume foods to try
High volume foods will tend to be unprocessed.
The low energy density of high-volume foods usually comes from the fact that they contain a lot of water and fiber, or minimal amounts of fat. So, when following a high-volume eating plan you’ll want to choose minimally-processed foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean protein sources (and don’t forget to consume sufficient fat.)
Here are some examples of high volume foods to get you started — once you get the hang of identifying these, feel free to get creative with your diet.
- Salad greens (lettuce, kale, arugula)
- Green beans
- Stone fruit (peaches, plums)
- Melon (watermelon, cantaloupe)
- Brown rice
- Air popped popcorn
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
- Skinless white meat poultry (chicken, turkey)
You probably already incorporate a lot of these foods into your diet already, so a day of volumetrics eating won’t look too unfamiliar. Breakfast could be eggs scrambled in olive oil with a side of fruit and black coffee.
Lunch and dinner would consist of a plate full of mostly vegetables with some lean protein and carbohydrates on the side. For snacks, grab a small handful of nuts and pair it with some air-popped popcorn or fruit.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Published January 7, 2018
Reviewed April 2021
Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated. Start building a healthy plate by choosing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy — foods that are packed with the nutrients you need without too many added sugars, sodium and solid fats.
Unsure where to start? Here are tips for building a smarter plate.
Focus on Variety
- Choose a variety of foods from all the food groups to get the nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned.
- Eat more dark green vegetables such as leafy greens and broccoli and orange vegetables including carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Vary your protein choices with more fish, beans and lentils.
- Aim for at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day.
Know Your Fats
- Look for foods low in saturated fat and trans fat to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Make most of the fats you eat monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils.
- Check the Nutrition Facts label on food packaging.
Eat Fewer Foods High in Solid Fats
- Opt for lean ground beef, turkey, chicken, fish, beans, lentils and tofu. Cut back on processed meats such as hot dogs, salami and bacon.
- Grill, broil, bake or steam foods instead of frying.
- Cook with healthy oils such as olive, canola and sunflower oils in place of partially-hydrogenated oils or butter.
- Select low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese.
Choose Foods and Drinks with Little or No Added Sugars
- Drink mostly water and opt for low-fat or fat-free milk or 100% fruit juice in moderate amounts.
- Add lemons, limes or cucumbers to water or drink unsweetened carbonated water.
- Eat fresh fruit for dessert more often than cakes, cookies or pastries.
- Buy foods with little-to-no added sugars, including unsweetened applesauce or unsweetened whole-grain cereals.
Cut Back on Sodium
- Use herbs and spices to season foods instead of salt.
- Hold the salt when you cook pasta, rice and vegetables.
- Read the Nutrition Facts label to compare the sodium content of high-sodium foods such as pre-made foods, frozen meals, bread, canned soups and vegetables.
Think nutrient-rich rather than “good” or “bad” foods. The majority of your food choices should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients. Making healthy food choices and being physically active can help you feel your best.
For more information on healthful changes you can make to your eating plan, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area.
- Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate
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Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.
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Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle
Senior Research Fellow, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle
Associate Professor Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle
Clare Collins is affiliated with the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, the University of Newcastle, NSW. She is an NHMRC Senior Research and Gladys M Brawn Research Fellow. She has received research grants from NHMRC, ARC, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Meat and Livestock Australia, Diabetes Australia, Heart Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, nib foundation, Rijk Zwaan Australia and Greater Charitable Foundation. She has consulted to SHINE Australia, Novo Nordisk, Quality Bakers, the Sax Institute and the ABC. She was a team member conducting systematic reviews to inform the Australian Dietary Guidelines update and the Heart Foundation evidence reviews on meat and dietary patterns.
Tracy Burrows is associated with Priority research Centre of Physical Activity and Nutrition, the University of Newcastle and Affiliate to Hunter Medial research Institute. She receives funding from NHMRC as part of an Investigator grant
Kerith Duncanson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Newcastle provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.
It’s always important to eat healthy food – but especially during pregnancy. Find out about healthy food and drink choices, healthy weight gain and food safety during pregnancy.
Eat a range of healthy foods
To keep you and your growing baby healthy and well you need to eat a range of healthy foods from the 4 main food groups every day.
The 4 main food groups are:
- vegetables and fruit – eat at least 7 servings per day of vegetables and fruit – at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit
- breads and cereals (wholegrain is best) – eat at least 8 servings of bread and cereal each day
- milk and milk products (reduced- or low-fat milk is best) – eat at least 2 servings each day of milk or milk products, preferably reduced- or low-fat products
- lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes (beans, lentils and peas), nuts and seeds – eat at least 3 servings each day.
To find out more, including serving sizes and healthy food choices during pregnancy, see Eating for healthy pregnant women.
A healthy diet is important during pregnancy. But you can’t always get everything that you and your baby need from food. Find out about folic acid and iodine tablets and how to get enough vitamin D.
Drink plenty of fluid
Drink when you are thirsty. Try to drink at least 9 cups of fluid each day. Water or reduced- or low-fat milk are the best choices.
You may need more fluid when it’s hot, after you have exercised and if you are vomiting (throwing up) or constipated (when you have 3 or fewer bowel movements [poos/tuutae] in a week). If you are throwing up, fluid may be more easily taken by sucking on ice blocks or having clear soups.
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of changes in your body. It’s normal to gain weight during pregnancy due to the growth of the baby, the whenua/afterbirth and fluid around the baby.
While there is no exact healthy weight gain, thin women may need to gain more weight and overweight women less. Talk to your midwife or specialist doctor if you are concerned about your weight gain.
You can expect to eat more food as the pregnancy progresses, but this does not mean that you need to ‘eat for two’. A good appetite and a steady weight gain, especially after the first 3 months, will usually mean that you are eating enough.
Dieting during pregnancy is not recommended because your baby may be less healthy, and it could also affect your health.
To find out how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy, download Healthy Weight Gain in Pregnancy (PDF, 448 KB). You can track your weight gain by downloading and printing this record card (PDF, 279 KB).
In pregnancy your immunity is lower than usual, so you and your unborn baby are more at risk of the kinds of food-borne illnesses that affect everyone.
To keep you and your baby healthy:
- wash and dry your hands thoroughly
- be food smart: clean, cook, chill
- avoid high-risk foods.
For more information and the most up-to-date list of high-risk foods to avoid, see the Ministry for Primary Industries’ food safety resource Food safety and pregnancy. You can also call MPI Food Safety on 0800 693 721 or talk to your midwife or specialist doctor.
Eating for healthy pregnant women – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
Food information for pregnant women. Includes food for a healthy mother and baby, dietary variety, drinking plenty of fluids, foods low in fat, salt and sugar, keeping active, food safety and listeria, salmonella, campylobacter and toxoplasma, snack and lunch ideas, eating well during pregnancy, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, alcohol, being smokefree, folic acid, iodine and vitamin D.
The Theory: Nutrition experts tend to recommend eating 3 balanced meals (350 to 600 calories each) and 1 to 3 snacks per day (between 150 and 200 calories each). The calories for each meal and snack depend on a variety of factors including, height, weight, age, gender and activity level. The philosophy is to make sure you don’t go longer than 5 hours or so without eating. After going without food for a prolonged period of time, folks tend to become ravenous and their decision-making skills plummet. They end up choosing any food they can find, including fast food or high-calorie treats.
Pros: Having a small, healthy snack between meals (like cut veggies and hummus or half a PB&J on whole-wheat bread) can curb hunger until the next meal and enable people to make sensible food choices.
Cons: One big issue I’ve seen with clients is that they tend to overdose on snacks: Instead of having 150 to 200 calories, they end up munching on closer to 400 to 500. In addition, foods chosen for snacks should provide good-for-you nutrients the body deserves; higher calorie snacks (like cookies, cakes, sugary drinks) tend to be empty of nutritional value.
The Theory: The other school of thought is to eat one or two larger meals a day, which gives people less of an opportunity to graze on extra calories throughout the day.
Pros: A recent study presented at the 2013 American Diabetes Association conference found that, compared with folks who ate 6 smaller meals daily, study participants who ate 2 large meals per day (breakfast and lunch) lost more weight, even though both groups consumed the same number of calories. All of the subjects in the study had type 2 diabetes.
Cons: It should be noted that this study only had 54 participants, which is a very small sample size. In addition, experts not involved in this study have commented that skipping dinner isn’t feasible since it’s the one meal most folks have time for. Furthermore, skipping meals isn’t a good idea for diabetics, as the amount of glucose (aka sugar) they get from food should be evenly distributed throughout the day.
Another downside to this way of eating is that most people may not be able to take in all of their essential nutrients in one or two sittings, especially since several vitamins and minerals negate each other in the body. (For example, iron is less likely to be absorbed when high amounts of calcium are around.)
Studies have also shown negative consequences of eating larger, less frequent meals. One 2007 study published in the journal Metabolism looked at folks who ate one big meal as opposed to 3. They tended to eat as many calories in that one meal as in 3 smaller meals. And researchers found that eating one meal resulted in potentially dangerous metabolic consequences. Folks who skipped meals had higher blood sugar levels and a delayed insulin response—these are two conditions that can lead to diabetes if they continue over a long period of time.
Finally, a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that when subjects ate 3 meals and 3 snacks versus 3 meals per day (while eating the same amount of calories), the rate of weight loss was not greater with either type of eating pattern.
Bottom Line: Stick to eating smaller, frequent meals as opposed to eating one or two larger ones. However, that doesn’t give you free rein to eat whatever you want. Calories still need to be kept in check and food choices should be well balanced from all the food groups.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »
That’s right: If slimming down is your goal, you need to make sure you’re taking in enough calories.
You’ve heard the advice time and time again: If you’re trying to lose weight, you should take in fewer calories. But what some people may not realize is there’s such a thing as eating too little for weight loss. It’s true, says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D., a nutritionist and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University—cutting too many calories can actually slow down the weight loss process.
“Restricting calories too much almost always backfires,” Young says. There’s a reason for that: The body actually needs calories to burn calories. She points out that it’s a lot like when you want to light a fire. You need to throw kindling in the fireplace to ignite it.
It’s important to think of food as a delicious, well-deserved pleasure, but it’s also your body’s kindling; it sparks your metabolism, making it possible to slim down. When you’re eating enough, the body first uses food for fuel, then turns to the fat it’s been holding onto for energy, Young says. But when you restrict calories too severely, your body goes into “starvation mode,” and then it starts to break down lean muscle tissue to hang onto its energy stores. Ultimately, this can slow metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. According to the National Institutes of Health, eating too few calories also increases the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which not only can make it harder to shed pounds—it’s unhealthy in a number of ways. Plus, overall, it’s tough to stick to a super low-calorie diet, because that’s not what keeps a body running well. All of that explains why it’s possible to not eat enough for weight loss. Eating this way also saps so much of the pleasure out of your meals as well!
Each person’s calorie needs are different, based on their activity level, goals, and gender, but overall guidance for women is to consume 2000 calories daily to maintain their weight, according to the NIH, and eat 1500 calories to lose up to a pound a week. Once you dip too low in the amount of calories you take in, it becomes difficult for your body to perform the basic biological functions that keep you healthy and energized. If you’re not certain that you’re hitting the number that’s right for you, here are a few signs that you may not be eating enough to lose weight.
When you find that you can’t get through your afternoon to-do list because you’re getting distracted dreaming about dinner, that’s a sign that you may not be eating enough. To increase your caloric intake and let you think about things other than food, reach for healthy snacks between meals. Young suggests pairing a protein-packed food with something rich in fiber. Cottage cheese or a small handful of nuts with a piece of fruit fits that nutritional bill (or try one of these healthy protein-packed snacks).
Skipping breakfast (or surviving on a breakfast of black coffee) and starving yourself until lunch is not the route to slimming down. And overall, if you cut out too much, psychologically you’ll constantly feel deprived, Young says. She suggests having three meals, sticking with healthy sources of calories, like fresh produce, lean meats, healthy fats, and whole grains.
You shouldn’t notice major changes in your cycle if you’re losing weight at a healthy pace, Young says. However, when you don’t eat a sufficient number of calories, it can cause your period to become irregular. It may even stop menstruation altogether—likely because the body doesn’t have enough fat to produce the sex hormones that trigger the menstrual cycle, research suggests. So keep an eye on your cycle if you’re restricting calories.
Your brain runs on the glucose found in your blood, and that glucose comes from the carbohydrates you eat. When you restrict your calories and carbs too much, your brain will become energy-starved. Take notice if you’re feeling shaky, dizzy, or light-headed—or getting otherwise unexplainable headaches—because these are signs you’re not eating enough and your blood sugar has dropped too low. You may be able to stop those head-bangers by just adding more calories and carbs to your diet —and this can help the pounds come off more rapidly, too.
When you take in too few calories over the course of a day, you may find that you just don’t have the juice to keep going without getting sleepy or even just foggy. Having a couple of healthy snacks during the day, as well as three solid meals, is a great way to keep your blood sugar stable, as well as to keep yourself from feeling tired, deprived, and cranky.
If you’ve ever waited too long before eating lunch, you know what “hangry” means—that un-fun combo where hungry meets angry. The same thing can happen when you’re restricting calories too severely, Young says.
In fact, some research suggests acts of self-control (like keeping to a strict diet) are connected with angrier behavior. If you’re trying to shed pounds, you don’t want to limit calories so much that it sends your mood into a downspin.
That tiny salad for dinner? Guaranteed, it will leave you feeling empty and wanting more. But if you fill the rest of your plate with whole grains, healthy fats, and a lean protein, you’ll feel satisfied—and that’s something you deserve to feel! Plus—and this is key— you’ll load up on the nutrients your body needs, Young says. Portion control is not about tiny portions. It’s about eating larger portions of healthy foods (like these 20 low-calories salads that won’t leave you hungry), and smaller portions of the less healthy stuff.
Medically Reviewed by
In This Article
- Does Lack of Sleep Cause Overeating?
- Does Overeating Affect Sleep?
- Is It Harmful to Eat Before Bed?
It’s common knowledge that both getting good sleep and following a healthy diet are essential for overall health. Often overlooked, though, is that there is an important relationship between sleep and nutrition.
A major part of that relationship is the link between sleep and overeating. Sleep deprivation can affect appetite and food choices, increasing the likelihood of both overeating and consuming unhealthy foods.
Overeating can affect sleep as well. Eating too much, especially when it involves heavy or spicy foods, can worsen sleep by interfering with digestion and raising the risk of heartburn. For this reason, most experts advise against eating too much and too close to bedtime.
Recognizing the bidirectional relationship between sleep and overeating can be a first step toward optimizing your diet and your sleep.
Does Lack of Sleep Cause Overeating?
Research studies have found that insufficient sleep increases overeating and unhealthy food choices. Not surprisingly, studies have also linked insufficient sleep to weight gain and a higher risk of obesity.
Disruptions to normal hormone production are a driving factor behind sleep deprivation leading to overeating. Sleep plays a vital role in regulating hormone levels, including the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which are integral to hunger and appetite.
Ghrelin is closely related to hunger while leptin is tied to feeling full. A lack of sleep has been found to trigger increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin, leading to increased hunger and appetite. This makes overeating more likely, especially since more time awake creates increased opportunities to eat.
Insufficient sleep also affects parts of the brain that determine how we think about food. In studies of people with limited sleep, brain activity is enhanced in areas that are involved in viewing food as a positive reward, making us more vulnerable to eating too much.
Even worse, these changes in the brain seem to be strongest with foods that can more easily contribute to obesity. One study found increased appetite for high-calorie foods in people who didn’t get enough sleep. Similar results have been found in young children and adolescents, indicating that poor sleep may be a factor contributing to rising rates of childhood obesity.
Patterns of overeating can lead to weight gain, which raises the risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that causes persistent sleep interruptions. Overeating, especially at night, can disrupt sleep. As a result, a vicious cycle can emerge in which poor sleep triggers overeating that can play a role in further worsening sleep.
Does Overeating Affect Sleep?
Overeating can interfere with normal sleep. After a big meal, the body has to devote energy to the digestive process, which typically takes several hours. But digestion usually slows during sleep, putting your body’s normal sleep process at odds with the stomach’s needs for digestion. This may explain why studies have found increased sleep disruptions after eating close to bedtime.
Research has found an association between eating higher quantities of calories and fat and a decreased amount of sleep. The effects of overeating on sleep may be exacerbated by excess intake of certain types of foods. For example, meals with low fiber and high amounts of sugar and saturated fat have been correlated with interrupted sleep.
Overeating can cause discomfort, which can be a barrier to sleep. Besides making you feel too full, big meals may induce and exacerbate acid reflux, in which the resultant heartburn can make it harder to get quality sleep. Heartburn may be even more likely if overeating involves certain foods such as spicy foods, fatty foods and chocolate, which can cause indigestion. Large meals with certain foods can also disrupt sleep by increasing body temperature which runs counter to the body’s typical process of cooling down during sleep.
How Can You Sleep Well After Overeating?
If you’ve eaten too much but still want to get good sleep, a few tips may help:
- Give it time: If you can, wait 3-4 hours before going to bed so that your body has time to devote to digestion.
- Drink water: Feeling stuffed may cause you to avoid drinking water, but it’s important to stay hydrated, but avoid carbonated beverages due to the gas content.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine: Both of these can interfere with your sleep, so it’s best to avoid them if you want to rest well.
- Try light physical activity: You don’t want to overdo it, but a short walk at a slow or moderate pace or light stretching may help you feel more comfortable as you digest.
- Prevent heartburn: Two strategies for preventing acid reflux include elevating the head of your bed by six inches and lying on your left side. If you’re worried about heartburn, these steps may help you sleep without interruption.
- Optimize your bedroom: Eliminating potential sleep disruptions, such as from excess light or noise, may help you doze off and quickly get back to sleep if you wake up during the night after overeating.
Is It Harmful to Eat Before Bed?
It’s not just how much or what you eat; the timing of when you eat matters, too. Studies have found that eating within three hours of your bedtime increases the likelihood of sleep disruptions, and that risk may be even greater if you overeat at dinner. Acid reflux, which is more likely with a late dinner, can further reduce sleep quality.
Beyond its impact on your sleep, eating before bed may also contribute to weight gain. The body’s internal clock, known as its circadian rhythm, empowers the body to better digest food and regulate blood sugar during the day. In this way, a late dinner can negatively affect metabolism, increase body fat, and heighten the risk of obesity.
Given its potential impact on sleep and weight, studies indicate that, in general, it’s preferable to consume the majority of caloric intake during the day. That said, because dietary needs can vary depending on a person’s circumstances, anyone concerned about their nutrition and sleep should talk with their doctor or a nutritionist for advice that is tailored to their situation.
Eating food may sound very simple in itself but it’s the simple mistakes we make that make a huge difference. It is important to know that when it comes to eating, the timing of meals is the key.
How often do you delay your breakfast or skip your meal after a heavy workout? How often do you eat right before bedtime? Do you have long gaps between meals? The best times to eat can be a tricky question to answer.
Here we demystify it for you BREAKFAST
– Eat within 30 minutes of waking up
– Ideal time to have breakfast is 7am
– Do not delay breakfast later than 10am
– Make sure you have protein in your breakfast
– Ideal time to have lunch is 12.45pm
– Try and keep a gap of 4 hours between your breakfast and lunch
– Do not delay lunch later than 4pm.
– The ideal time to have dinner is before 7pm
– You should keep a gap of 3 hours between your dinner and bedtime
– Do not delay dinner later than 10pm
– Eating close to bedtime can interfere with the quality of sleep
– Never workout (especially weight training) on empty stomach
– The right pre-workout meal could be protein sandwich (with chicken, tuna etc), protein shake, scrambled egg with whole wheat bread, peanut butter sandwich
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Eating intuitively — eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full — should be simple enough, right? In theory, yes, but the temptation to indulge is everywhere , from the occasional birthday cake at work taunting your mid-afternoon cravings to the pint of ice cream you keep crammed into the back corner of your freezer. And while indulging sometimes is all well and good, doing it too often can have health repercussions.
Overeating is typically associated with junk food, but you can overdo it on the good-for-you foods, too. In fact, Robert Glatter, M.D. , an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health defined overeating, or eating too much, as simply a situation of taking in an excess amount of food in relation to how much your body a) needs and b) can handle at once.
Eating too much is subjective to your body, and depends on a few key details
Your body composition, age, height, how much you move throughout the day, your sleeping patterns, medical conditions, and even your health goals should be taken into consideration when measuring how much is too much, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Grace Derocha told INSIDER.
“Individuals can measure how much is too much by combining food journaling, portion control, and measurement with mindfulness and intuitive eating,” Derocha explained. “Using these tactics to learn the difference between when your body is full or satisfied versus hungry will help reinforce when too much is being consumed.”
You’ll know you’ve eaten too much by a few tell-tale signs your body gives you soon after that last bite
Let’s say all of a sudden you experience a hot flash mid-bite, but the food you’re eating isn’t spicy. Derocha said this kind of unrelated warmth could be a clear indication you’ve overeaten as your body temperature climbs when you digest.
What’s more, Derocha added, if you need to take breaks in order to finish your meal, or loosen your pants to cope with bloating or discomfort, chances are you’ve eaten too much. But hunger cues — or, in this case, fullness cues — aren’t solely physical.
“If the thought of finishing what’s on your plate or already in your mouth is unbearable, ” Derecha warned, “this signifies you have fully satisfied your hunger and are full.”
Eating too much causes your body to work in overdrive
Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Sometimes your cravings get the best of you and two cookies turns into a whole lot more. Overeating happens, and even though it might feel satiating in the moment, taking in an excess amount of food can do some real damage to your insides, Derocha explained.
For one, eating too much can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels because your body begins to overcompensate and produce more insulin than usual to keep blood sugar levels at a healthy range. As a result, you might experience headaches, increased thirst, fatigue, or lethargy, Derocha said. It’s also possible that your body will store the excess blood sugar and calories, leading to weight gain.
In terms of your actual stomach, Glatter told INSIDER that when you overeat, your digestive organ literally swells, causing bloat, discomfort, even nausea and, in some cases, acid reflux. What’s more, when food a long time to break down, your sleep patterns, as well as your brain functionality, can become distorted, too, Derocha added.
“Recent studies suggest overeating, or consuming foods high in fats and sugars for an extended period, can impair cognitive function,” she told INSIDER. “A few findings include memory loss, impaired judgment, and increased white matter in the brain (typically associated with older people).”
So how can you ease a stomach that’s been fully loaded?
First things first, if you do eat too much, remember to be gentle with yourself not just physically, but also mentally, too. Move forward and, if you want, incorporate healthy, nutrient-dense foods into your next meal.
Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you’ve overeaten, and your body is probably paying the price, Derocha said your first order of business should be to drink the recommended six to eight glasses of water per day to keep hydrated, help the body digest, and also to help detox your system from the excessive sodium intake.
As far as physical activity goes, Derocha told INSIDER exercise can help jumpstart your metabolism and help your body work off the extra calories. However, rigorous exercise probably isn’t the best idea too soon after you’ve cleared your plate. Instead, Glatter suggested going for a light walk or practicing yoga might help you feel better and aid in digestion.
We are consuming ever bigger portions on ever larger dinner plates. Food manufacturers keep pushing us to eat more. Can we learn to control our helpings? Plus: Jay Rayner, Gizzi Erskine and Tamal Ray on their struggles with cutting down
Right-sizing: a 150g recommended portion of pasta is equivalent in size to a tennis ball. Composite: Getty Images
Right-sizing: a 150g recommended portion of pasta is equivalent in size to a tennis ball. Composite: Getty Images
Last modified on Thu 2 Aug 2018 19.34 BST
I f you want to see how inflated our portion sizes have become, don’t go to the supermarket – head to an antique shop. You spot a tiny goblet clearly designed for a doll, only to be told it is a “wine glass”. What look like side plates turn out to be dinner plates. The real side plates resemble saucers.
Back in a modern kitchen, you suddenly notice how vast everything is – 28cm has become a normal diameter for a dinner plate, which in the 1950s would have been 25cm. Just because we are eating off these great expanses of china does not of course mean that we have to serve ourselves bigger portions. But as it happens, we usually do. Brian Wansink is a psychologist (author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think) who has done numerous experiments to prove what you would hope common sense might already tell us: that oversized tableware makes us consume bigger portions. A large ice-cream scoop makes you take more ice-cream; a short, squat glass makes you pour more juice. Because it doesn’t look like much, we still feel we are consuming roughly the same amount. Wansink calls this the size-contrast illusion. The “real danger of these kitchen traps”, writes Wansink, is that “almost every single person in the world believes they’re immune to them”.
In fact, it seems that the only people who are immune to big portions are tiny children. Up until the age of three or four, children have an enviable ability to stop eating when they are full. After that age, this self-regulation of hunger is lost, and sometimes never relearned. This is a cross-cultural phenomenon, from London to Beijing. One study from the US found that when three-year olds were served small, medium and larger portions of macaroni cheese, they always ate roughly the same amount. By contrast, five-year-olds ate a lot more when the portion of macaroni cheese was oversized.
The average shepherd’s pie ready meal has nearly doubled in size since 1993. Photograph: Felix Clay/The Guardian
In a world where food is ever-present, many of us have become like Alice in Wonderland, controlled by cakes that say Eat Me and bottles that say Drink Me. As the nutritionist Marion Nestle remarked 10 years ago in her book, What to Eat: “It is human nature to eat when presented with food, and to eat more when presented with more food.” The trouble is that we are pushed more food, more often, every day. In 2013, the British Heart Foundation published a report called Portion Distortion on how portion sizes in Britain have changed since 1993. Back then, the average American-style muffin weighed 85g, whereas 20 years later it was not uncommon to find muffins weighing 130g. Ready meals have also ballooned in size, with chicken pies expanding by 49% and the average shepherd’s pie nearly doubling in size since 1993 (from 210g to 400g). To overeat in such an environment may be less about lacking willpower than being set in your ways. Food psychologists talk about “unit bias” meaning that we are inclined to think that a portion equals one of something, no matter what the size. Even when it’s the 2,000-calorie single slice of pizza that nutritionists managed to buy in New York City: a whole day’s worth of calories in a single snack.
Could you pour out a recommended portion of breakfast cereal? Photograph: Sally Anscombe/Getty Images/Flickr RF
But while portions in cafes and restaurants are often now gargantuan, the recommended portions on food packets may be unrealistically small. For most breakfast cereals, the “serving size” across the EU is 30g. In a Kellogg’s Variety pack, the Corn Flakes are just 17g. To my 16-year-old son, this is hardly more than a mouthful (admittedly, he is 6ft 11in). A couple of years ago, I interviewed a spokesperson for Kellogg’s, who said that these tiny recommended sizes are aimed at children but admitted that adults do “eat a bit more”. They certainly do. A study in 2013 found that when 140 British adults in Southend and Birmingham were asked to pour out a normal bowl of cornflakes, 88% of participants took more than 30g. The average was 44g.
Our confusion over portions in Britain is linked to the fact that we have lost so many of our basic instincts about cooking. When the Department of Health tells us that the ideal portion of broccoli is “two spears” whereas for cauliflower it is “eight florets”, it doesn’t bear much relation to ordinary meals. By contrast, a 2010 survey of nearly 1,500 elderly South Koreans found that there was still a remarkable level of convergence over how much to eat of particular foods, because of traditional cuisine. Almost all the Koreans in the survey agreed that a portion of polished white rice was 75g; sweet potato was 120g; spinach was a hefty 40g; and roasted white sesame seeds was 1g.
Without this kind of shared knowledge to guide us, we remain at the mercy of the food industry. In a state of overabundance, food companies have two possible strategies. One is to sell us smaller portions at higher prices – this January, Unilever announced that it was cutting the size of ice-creams such as Magnum and Cornetto by up to a third (though, needless to say, it did not bring the prices down by the same margin). The other, more universal, approach is to attempt to sell us more food. In 1988, you could only buy a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar in a single size: 54g. Now, you can buy it as 49g, 110g, 200g and 360g. Compared with the truly colossal 360g bar, the still-massive 110g looks almost modest.
Our problem with portions is partly this: no one likes the concept of “less”. We are conditioned from childhood onwards to yearn for the overflowing glass and the laden table. An easy way to address this at home is simply to use smaller tableware. Often at the end of a meal, I am not really hungry but yearn for something sweet. I find that if I get a tiny dipping bowl and pile it high with whatever I desire – dense chocolate brownies, sticky halva – I feel satisfied, even with a tiny portion. When I first tried this, it felt silly. Could I really be fooled by a plate? Yes. I could. And so could you.
6 Food Tips: A No-Fuss Guide To A Healthy Diet
This story was updated on Oct. 9.
Healthy eating can be easy if you follow a few simple rules. We guide you through three types of food you should eat more of and three types to avoid. Plus, we follow up each suggestion with an actionable tip from registered dietician Angela Ginn-Meadow.
Here’s what to remember:
Nuts and seeds. They contain all the nutrients you need to kick-start the growth of new life. “Nuts and seeds have an incredibly powerful mixture of healthy fats, fiber and probably most importantly trace nutrients,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and the dean of the nutrition school at Tufts University. “These flavonols, these polyphenols, have a range of effects on us, on our gut bacteria, on our livers, on our cellular functions that are incredibly beneficial as we age.”
Regularly eating a (portion-controlled) handful of any kind of nut also can help ward off excessive weight gain.
Try this: If you’re worried about portion control, try snacking on pistachios that need to be cracked open — this can help you slow down.
Fruits and vegetables. The nutrition mandate to eat more fruits and vegetables should come as no surprise. But these two tips might help you follow the rule more easily. First, they don’t have to be fresh to be healthy. “If you get frozen fruits or vegetables, that’s great. If you can get canned fruits or vegetables that don’t have a lot of sodium or added sugar, that’s fine,” Mozaffarian says.
Eat Your Way To A Healthier Life
The Truth About Carbs And Calories
Second, fruit is not the bad guy. “Natural sugars that are still packaged in the food that they were intended to be in are good for us,” says Ginn-Meadow, the registered dietician. Mozaffarian adds: “In long-term observational studies, people who eat more fruit gain less weight and have lower risk of diabetes.”
Try this: If your greens or peppers are starting to go bad, chop them up and throw them in the freezer for later. Now you have ingredients for an omelet or stir-fry. Voila!
Healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids from seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids are great for the brain and heart. “Babies who got more omega-3s in their diets either from formula or from their mothers taking supplements or having fish had better brain function,” Mozaffarian says. If you don’t eat fish, you can also get omega-3s from flax seeds, walnuts or chia seeds.
There are lots of other healthy fats out there too: nuts, fish, avocados, plant oils, extra virgin olive oil, soybean oil and canola oil.
Try this: Fish can be pricy, but frozen and canned fish like sardines, salmon and tuna can be pretty affordable. Get creative with recipes for tuna salad or salmon cakes.
Processed meat. “There’s about 400% more sodium in processed meats than in unprocessed meats,” Mozaffarian says. That’s because salt is used to process meat. So are nitrates. There’s some evidence that nitrates can lead to the formation of compounds that are carcinogenic to us. In particular, eating lots of bacon is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
Try this: If you have a hankering for that smoky essence of bacon, try layering on other flavors, like caramelized onions or smoked Gouda.
Sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates. “Liquid sugar from soda and energy drinks is, Mozaffarian says, “the worst way to consume sugar.” There was a study that found drinking just one sugary drink a day can increase the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by about 20%. Also, refined starch is the hidden sugar, so think twice before eating starchy snacks like crackers and pretzels.
Try this: If you crave starchy snacks like pretzels with the added salt, swap in edamame instead.
Salt, especially in packaged foods. “The most obvious and well-confirmed problem with too much salt is it raises your blood pressure,” Mozaffarian says. “And high blood pressure is a clear risk factor for stroke and for heart attacks.”
Cutting back on salt can be tricky because it’s often hidden in foods where you don’t even suspect it, like bread and breakfast cereal. “When you’re looking at a snack item,” Ginn-Meadow says, “aim for no more than 100 to 150 milligrams of sodium.”
Try this: If you pick up a can of beans with high sodium content, rinse them off with tap water to flush out the extra salt.
Literally — it’s a shade under 2,000 pounds.
Social scientists have provided many explanations for all that eating, including our increasing dependency on restaurant meals and an ongoing love affair with meat.
But one of the most foundational reasons for all that eating is one of the most controllable.
It’s called completion compulsion.
Coined by University of Alabama psychologist Paul Siegel in 1957, completion compulsion describes an uncomfortably familiar eating habit — that we’re more likely to finish what’s on our plate than just stop eating because we’ve gobbled up enough food.
In commenting on the first-ever study of portion size, Siegel wrote that in “cookie consumption, compulsion is marked enough to stimulate a chuckle . On only one occasion was a fraction of a cookie left behind.”
Siegel’s breakthrough was the realization that we take a meal to be a “unit” of food, and we feel compelled to do everything in our power to finish it.
In the words of Louis C.K., “The meal is not over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself!”
Since Siegel’s time, loads of research has been done on how portions relate to eating habits. The science is simple: the bigger the portion, the more people eat.
As Penn State psychologist BJ Rolls described one study:
On five occasions we served men and women an afternoon snack that consisted of 28, 42, 85, 128 or 170 g of potato chips in a plain, unlabeled foil bag.
Participants ate directly from the bag so that they had few visual cues to guide consumption.
The results showed that portion size had a significant effect on snack intake for both men and women.
For example, when served the 170-g package, women ate 18% more and men ate 37% more than when served the 85-g package. As subjects increased their snack intake with increasing package size, they reported feeling fuller; however, they did not adjust their intake at the subsequent dinner to compensate for the increased energy intake.
Similarly, when men and women were served larger portions of a “regular” soda size, women drank 10% and men drank 26% more than before.
So what can we do with this info?
Telling people to “eat less” probably isn’t the best approach, Rolls has argued. Instead, she suggests a strategy of eating more foods with a lower “energy density,” or calorie count. The idea is to eat the same amount of food — you’ll still feel full – but while taking in fewer calories.
The Mayo Clinic says you need to pay attention to three things regarding energy density:
Water. Fruits and vegetables are generally high in water content, which provides volume and weight but not calories. That’s why they’re low-energy-dense foods. Grapefruit, for example, is about 90 percent water. Half a grapefruit has just 37 calories. Raw, fresh carrots are about 88 percent water. A medium carrot has only about 25 calories.
Fiber. High-fiber foods not only provide volume but also take longer to digest, making you feel full longer on fewer calories. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains all contain fiber. Popcorn is a good example of a high-volume, low-calorie whole grain. One cup of air-popped popcorn has about 30 calories.
Fat. Fat is high in energy density. One pat of butter, for example, contains almost the same number of calories as 2 cups of raw broccoli. Foods that contain fat naturally, such as dairy products and various meats, or foods with added fats are higher in calories than are their leaner or lower fat counterparts.
So with a little dietary finesse, you can make completion compulsion work for you. If you have lots of low-energy-dense foods on your plate, you’ll “get full” on things that nourish you.
Jillian Kramer is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with over 10 years of experience in print and digital media. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, Glamour, and SELF.
It’s all too likely you’ll tie the knot with someone who has eating habits drastically different than your own. From going meatless to eating meat at every meal, carb-less or just curbing cravings with vegetables rather than reaching for a bag of chips, our eating habits vastly differ from person to person—and that can create marital conflict for which you may not be prepared.
“One of the biggest conflicts I see with couples is when one has a major dietary restriction,” says registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey. “Whether it is going gluten-free, being a vegetarian, or having a serious food allergy, there can be a lot of conflict when one partner doesn’t eat certain foods.” Rumsey warns this can be especially challenging when one partner does the lion’s share of preparing and cooking meals.
Not only that, but if one partner goes on a health kick and the other won’t come along for the proverbial healthy food ride, one partner can become controlling or judgmental of the other, warns relationship expert Jane Greer, Ph.D. “If one person is focused on their health and nutrition and the other eats a lot of unhealthy items, they might be angry at their SO for bringing temptation into the home and also for not taking care of themselves,” she explains. “This can lead to a lot of power struggles and issues of control.”
Meet the Expert
- Alissa Rumsey is a registered dietitian, intuitive eating counselor, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Jane Greer, Ph.D., is a marriage and family therapist, author, and expert in sex, love, and relationships.
Face Your Differences
Your first line of defense, Rumsey explains, is to be aware of your food differences from the start. “When we start dating someone new, we generally aren’t concerned about what their food preferences are,” she points out. “But as time goes on, what seemed like not a big deal at first can morph into a real issue.” So before you say “I do,” tell your partner what your priorities are when it comes to food. “Communication is key,” Rumsey says. “Food is more than just nourishment for people. It is linked to how they were raised, their beliefs, their family, and more. Understanding what your differences are, and why your SO eats a certain way, can help you to each be more accepting.”
Focus on Yourself
Once you’ve tied the knot, Greer says it’s more important to focus on your own food habits than what your spouse puts on his or her plate. “Rather than telling your partner what to eat or not to eat, concentrate on your own eating habits. Put your energy into taking care of yourself.” Beyond that, Greer says, if your SO won’t participate in your own healthy eating habits and is flaunting foods that would break your diet, “you can always step out and leave the room until they’re finished,” she says. “You can also make sure you have your own snacks so you can join in without being unhealthy.”
Compromise Is Key
Finally, despite your dietary differences, it’s important to compromise. “Neither spouse needs to completely revamp their diets, but both should be willing to compromise,” Rumsey says. For example, if you’re a meat-eater married to a vegan, go meat-free one or two meals a week, and try to find recipes that can easily be made both vegan and non-vegan for you, she suggests. “Try a new recipe that you both agree on. Getting in the kitchen and experimenting with foods is a great way to bond with your partner while expanding your palate.”
As a parent, one of the most important things you do is to help your children learn healthy eating habits. Children need a balanced diet with food from all 3 food groups—vegetables and fruit, whole grain products, and protein foods.
Children need 3 meals a day and 1 to 3 snacks (morning, afternoon and possibly before bed). Healthy snacks are just as important as the food you serve at meals.
The best foods are whole, fresh and unprocessed—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and meats; and home-cooked meals.
Sugar and sugar substitutes
- Offer foods that don’t have added sugar or sugar substitutes. Limit refined sugars (sucrose, glucose-fructose, white sugar) honey, molasses, syrups, and brown sugar. They all have similar calorie counts and also contribute to tooth decay.
- Sugar substitutes, such as aspartame and sucralose, do not add calories or cause tooth decay, but they are much sweeter than sugar and have no nutritional value. They may lead to a habit of only liking sweet foods and make it difficult for your child to adjust to fruits and vegetables. It’s a good idea to limit them in your child’s diet.
Juice and water
- Offer water when your child is thirsty, especially between meals and snacks.
- Limit juice to one serving (125 mL [4 oz]) of 100% unsweetened juice a day.
- Serving actual fruit instead of fruit juice adds healthy fibre to your child’s diet.
- Sometimes children will drink too much at mealtime or between meals, making them feel full.
Sodium is a mineral that maintains proper fluids in your body. It’s also needed for nerve and muscle function. But, eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease. Sodium is commonly referred to as salt.
- Offer your child healthy foods that are low in sodium as often as possible.
- Processed and pre-packaged foods tend to have high amounts of sodium.
- Too much sodium in childhood can lead to a preference for salty food, which is associated with obesity and/or disease later in life.
- Use the % Daily Value (DV) on food labels to compare products. Look for foods with a sodium content of less than 15% DV.
- Keep recommended sodium intake in mind when choosing foods for your child:
|Age||Adequate intake (mg/day)
(1 level teaspoon of table salt is 2,300 mg)
|0 to 6 months||110|
|7 to 12 months||370|
|1 to 3 years||800|
|4 to 8 years||1000|
|9 to 13 years||1200|
*Data from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
What about fat?
Healthy fats contain essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 that cannot be made in the body and must come from food. Cook with vegetable oils such as canola, olive and/or soybean. Healthy fats are also found in salad dressings, non-hydrogenated margarines, nut butters (e.g. peanut butter) and mayonnaise.
Many fats that are solid at room temperature contain more trans and saturated fats that can raise your risk of heart disease. Limit butter, hard margarines, lard and shortening. Read labels and avoid trans or saturated fats found in many store-bought products, such as cookies, donuts and crackers.
Limit processed meats, such as wieners and luncheon meats, which are also high in fat, sodium (salt), and nitrates (food preservatives).
As the parent, it’s your job to:
- Set regular meal and snack times that work for the whole family. Share mealtimes and eat with your children.
- Offer a balance and variety of foods from all food groups at mealtimes.
- Offer food in ways they can manage easily. For example, cut into pieces, or mash food to prevent choking in younger children.
- Help your children learn to use a spoon or cup so they can eat independently.
- Include your child in age appropriate food preparation and table setting.
- Avoid using dessert as a bribe. Serve healthy dessert choices, such as a fruit cup or yogurt.
- Show your child how you read labels to help you choose foods when shopping.
- Avoiding fast food restaurants shows your children the importance of enjoying mealtime as a family, while eating healthy home cooked meals.
It’s your child’s job to:
- Choose what to eat from the foods you provide at meal and snack time (and sometimes that may mean not eating at all).
- Eat as much or as little as they want.
What if my child is a picky eater?
Don’t stress too much if your child refuses a food product or meal. Refrain from giving them something else in between meals just so that they eat. They will eat better at the next meal.
Don’t worry too much if your child doesn’t seem to be eating enough. If their weight and size is on track, they are probably getting what they need. Just make sure to offer your child a variety of foods from all food groups to make sure they are getting the right nutrients. Your child’s doctor will monitor their growth at regular appointments and will let you know if there are any problems.
Children’s appetites change from day-to-day, or even from meal to meal. Because they have small stomachs, children need to eat small amounts often throughout the day. Children know how much food they need and will eat the amount that their body needs.
What Does Nutrient-Dense Mean?
Research suggests the standard American diet is energy-rich and nutrient-poor. 1 And when we say energy, we mean calories! That’s where the saying “empty calories” comes from — it refers to foods that provide a lot of calories without much nutritional value.
Nutrient-dense foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients important for health, without too much saturated fat, added sugars and sodium. We’re talking fruits, vegetables, whole grains, non-fat and low-fat dairy, fish and seafood, unprocessed lean meat and skinless poultry, nuts and legumes. 2 You know, the good stuff!
The basic concept of nutrient density is the amount of nutrients you get for the calories consumed. 1
Think of it this way: You’re looking at the labels trying to decide between two packages of bread. One has about 80 calories per slice, but few vitamins and minerals. The whole-grain version has about the same number of calories, but more protein, three times the magnesium, and more than double the fiber, potassium, vitamin B6 and zinc. 3 The whole-grain option is the more nutrient-dense choice.
How to Identify Nutrient-Dense Foods
Nutrient profiling is the science of ranking or classifying foods based on the nutrients they contain. 4 Several nutrient-density profiling tools have been proposed by nutrition experts. Some tools are designed for health professionals to use when counseling clients and patients, and some are consumer-focused. You may have seen some promoted in your grocery store.
Most of these tools consider beneficial and often under-consumed nutrients (such as calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber), as well as those known to negatively affect health when consumed in excess (such as added sugars, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium). 1
A balanced approach is important. A heart-healthy dietary pattern includes:
- Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables
- Choosing whole grains
- Selecting healthy sources of protein, mostly from plant sources (legumes and nuts), fish or seafood, low-fat or nonfat dairy and lean cuts of meat
- Limiting red and processed meats, sodium, added sugars and alcohol.
Sounds complicated, right? We’re here to help. One of the tools you can use to choose more nutrient-dense foods is the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark. When you see it, you can be confident the product aligns with our recommendations for an overall healthy eating pattern. The Heart-Check mark considers beneficial nutrients as well as nutrients you should limit, making it quick and easy for you to make a healthy choice.
When a Heart-Check certified option isn’t available, read and compare Nutrition Facts labels and choose the best option available.
How to Add Them to Your Healthy Eating Plan
Now that you understand what nutrient-dense foods are, you can start adding more into your eating plan. Sometimes it only takes a small shift to make a more nutrient-dense choice. For example:
- Switch from white rice to brown rice.
- Replace sugary drinks with water, unsweetened tea, or coffee.
- Instead of a big dollop of sour cream on your chili or baked potato, try plain nonfat Greek yogurt.
- When adding toppings to pizza, tacos or sandwiches, think one more veggie instead of meat or cheese.
- Snack on crunchy vegetables or a handful of nuts instead of chips.
- Satisfy a sweet tooth with naturally sweet fruit instead of candy and cookies.
By making some simple swaps in your favorite recipes or reimagining favorite dishes, you can boost the nutrient density of your family’s meals and snacks.
What about snacks?
Most of us, including kids and adolescents, get a significant portion of our daily energy (calories) from snacks — foods and drinks we have between regular meals. 6 When we think of traditional snack foods and drinks, they tend to be higher in saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. For example, sugary drinks (like carbonated sodas, sports drinks and sweet tea) are usually quite high in calories and low in nutrient density. 1
When snacking, choose mostly nutrient-dense foods such as nonfat or low-fat dairy products, a variety of fruits and vegetables and nuts.
- By choosing more nutrient-dense foods, you’ll get the beneficial nutrients your body needs without consuming too many calories.
- Focus on your overall eating pattern, rather than individual nutrients or specific foods or food groups.
1 Selecting Nutrient-Dense Foods for Good Health, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016
2 AHA 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health
3 USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release
4 Development and validation of the nutrient-rich foods index: a tool to measure nutritional quality of foods, Journal of Nutrition, 2009
5 Location, location, location: eye-tracking evidence that consumers preferentially view prominently positioned nutrition information, Journal of American Dietetic Association, 2011
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Last Reviewed: Nov 2, 2021
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It seems like research that should surprise no-one: when people eat lots of highly-processed food, they’re more likely to gain weight.
- Scientists compare calorie consumption and weight gain in ultra-processed vs unprocessed diet
- Even when matched for calories, people eat more and gain weight when they’re on an ultra-processed diet
- Researchers say more research is needed to understand mechanisms behind food intake
And yet nutrition scientists, who have long suspected such foods are behind the ballooning obesity epidemic, were recently surprised to make such a finding.
Why? Well, it turns out the usual suspects — sugar, salt and fat — aren’t solely to blame.
In a small study published in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism, 20 people spent two weeks eating either a highly-processed or unprocessed diet, before they swapped to spend two weeks eating the opposite diet.
Despite the two groups’ meals and servings being carefully matched, calorie for calorie, participants consumed more food and gained weight while on the ultra-processed diet, said lead author Kevin Hall.
“I thought that if we matched the two diets for components like sugars, fat, carbohydrates, protein and sodium, there wouldn’t be anything magical about the ultra-processed food that would cause people to eat more,” said Dr Hall, senior investigator at the US National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
“We found that, in fact, people ate many more calories on the ultra-processed diet, and this caused them to gain weight and body fat.”
Studying dietary habits is complicated and often limited by self-reporting, so it’s been difficult for researchers to establish a direct connection between highly-processed foods and obesity.
Although the study was relatively small, as well as short, Dr Hall said it was the first to establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between processed foods, increased calorie consumption and weight gain.
“Even more importantly, that causal relationship didn’t necessarily have to do with the nutrients that we always suspected might be driving that relationship: salt, sugar and fat,” he said.
“It suggests there is something that we still don’t understand about ultra-processed food … that is driving a very large effect on why people tend to overeat [it].”
Eating ultra-processed food linked to earlier death
People who eat more junk food have a higher risk of dying earlier than those who eat less.