People can ‘right size’ portions of high-calorie foods

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In a study from the University of Bristol, scientists found that humans moderate the size of energy-rich meals they eat, suggesting people are smarter eaters than previously thought.

The findings revisit the long-held belief that humans are insensitive to the energy content of the foods they consume and are therefore prone to eating the same amount of food (in weight) regardless of whether it is energy-rich or energy-poor.

The study is especially strong as it challenges a common view among researchers that people are apt to overconsume high-energy foods.

This idea stems from previous studies which manipulated the energy content of foods or meals to create low- and high-energy versions.

In those studies, people were not told whether they were eating a low- or a high-energy version, and findings showed they tended to eat meals of the same weight, resulting in greater calorie intake with the high-energy version.

Rather than artificially manipulating the calories in single foods, the current study looked at data from a normal, everyday meals with different energy densities, such as a chicken salad sandwich with fig roll biscuits or porridge with blueberries and almonds.

The trial involved 20 healthy adults who temporarily lived in a hospital ward where they were served a variety of meals for four weeks.

The team calculated the calories, grams, and energy density (calories per gram) for every meal each participant consumed.

They found that meal calorie intake increased with energy density in energy-poor meals.

However, with greater energy density a turning point was observed whereby people start to respond to increases in calories by reducing the size of the meals they consume.

This suggests a previously unrecognized sensitivity to the energy content of the meals people were eating.

Using the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the researchers again found meal calorie intake increased with energy density in meals that were energy-poor and then decreased in energy-rich meals.

Importantly, for this turning point pattern to occur, participants would have needed to consume smaller meals, by weight, of the more energy-rich meals.

This research sheds new light on human eating behavior, specifically an apparent subtle sensitivity to calories in energy-rich meals.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about nutrients that could help reduce high blood pressure, and strawberries could help prevent Alzheimer’s.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

The study was conducted by Annika Flynn et al and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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