Weight Loss

High-volume, low-calorie food ideas

June 24, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • High-volume foods are foods that can be consumed in greater quantities while still being low in calories.
  • Low-calorie foods include most fruits and vegetables, as well as lean meats and low fat or no-fat dairy products.
  • Volume eating may not be for you if you have a history of disordered eating.

Have you heard of volume eating? Wondering what low-calorie foods you can eat while on a diet and still meet your goals?

High-volume foods can be an effective tool to promote food satisfaction while consume low-calorie meals. It is an eating technique that helps reduce your overall calorie density while still consuming a large quantity of food, which can help you feel more satisfied even with fewer calories.

Even if you're familiar with high-volume foods, volume eating can still be a confusing concept. You might be looking for high-volume, low-calorie food ideas or wondering how many of your meals should be high in volume. Let's dig into it.

What are high-volume foods?

High-volume foods are foods you can eat in greater quantity while keeping calories low. Most volume foods are fruits and vegetables and are naturally low in calories due to their high water content,

When eaten in larger volumes, these foods help you feel full simply because you've eaten more food. For people who struggle to eat less to lose weight, high volume foods can be a great solution, since they help you feel full without adding excess calories.

This works because the calorie density of these foods is low, which means that they have a low amount of calories for a relatively large amount of food. To illustrate this, think of two cups of spinach versus a serving of French fries. The spinach is just a few calories while an average serving of fries (100 grams) is about 200 calories.

You could use the spinach as the base of salad, add other vegetables, and top with some chicken and light dressing for about 200 calories. The salad is bound to help you feel full for longer both due to the high volume of food and the nutrient density, whereas eating the fries on their own probably won't be that satisfying for long.

Another example is nut butter. Nuts are very calorie-dense – two tablespoons is nearly 200 calories. Compare that to one cup of Greek yogurt, which is also nearly 200 calories. The volume difference between two tablespoons and one cup is significant. So while they might be nearly equal in calories, the volume of food in the yogurt is likelier to feel more satisfying and help you feel full for longer.

High-volume, low-calorie foods and recipes

High-volume, low-calorie foods include:

  • Air popped popcorn
  • Greek yogurt (low fat or no fat)
  • Lettuce and leafy salad greens like spinach
  • Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli
  • Oatmeal
  • Watermelon
  • Cottage cheese
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini
  • Lean meat like chicken breast or turkey
  • Fish
  • Soup
  • Legumes like lentils and chickpeas

You'll notice that most of these are fruits and vegetables. Nearly all produce is naturally low in calories and can help keep your calorie intake lower.

You'll also notice that red meat, nuts, and oils are not on this list. They are all generally high in calorie density. That doesn't make them "bad foods," it just means they typically can't be consumed in large quantities, especially for those trying to lose weight.

Here are some low-calorie meal ideas for volume eating:

  • A large salad with various vegetables like shredded carrots, chopped zucchini, chicken breast or beans for protein, and a light salad dressing
  • Chicken breast with roasted potatoes and a side salad
  • Greek yogurt with a handful of berries on top
  • Grilled or roasted fish like halibut or cod with a side of roasted cauliflower and lentils
  • Zucchini noodles with chicken meatballs and tomato sauce
  • White bean turkey chili with a dollop of yogurt
  • Egg omelet with roasted potatoes
  • Overnight oats with berries and chia seeds
  • Low calorie snacks include air popped popcorn, cottage cheese on a rice cake with hot sauce or seasoning, or slices of watermelon

You'll notice that many of these are relatively simple meal ideas. To make your low-calorie meals more interesting, play around with different herbs and spices. They don't add any calories but add a lot of flavor, which is important for food satisfaction.

If you'd like more low-calorie meal ideas and more information about volume eating, connect with a Fay weight loss dietitian now.

How feeling full relates to weight loss

One of the most challenging aspects of losing weight is eating less. That's where the appeal of volume comes in: you still feel like you're eating a lot of food but you're intaking fewer calories. A large bowl of salad can feel just as filling as a bowl of pasta due to the volume of food. The calorie density is lower, so you can eat a larger amount of the food while still keep it a low calorie meal.

(Note: Of course, a salad isn't the same as pasta or another higher-calorie meal. Food feeling filling is one thing but feeling satisfied is another. It's up to you what you find truly satisfying in a meal.)

This feeling of fullness and sateity can make it easier to stick to your diet and keep your overall calorie intake where it should be in line with your goals. This can help curb food cravings, too.

The other positive of volume eating is most volume foods are nutrient dense since so many of them are fruits and vegetables. Almost all produce is naturally low in calories, making it both a healthy choice and diet-friendly. They are also high in fiber, which increases satiety as well as promotes good digestion.

Fruits and vegetables are also easy to prepare, making them convenient food options.

High-volume meals also typically take longer to eat, which help you slow down and enjoy your meal. A sense of satisfaction and pleasure in your meals is just as important as the food itself. Mindful eating is key to healthy eating habits.

Is volume eating safe?

As with any diet, volume eating comes with its own risks. If you try to have high-volume foods at every meal, you may find yourself getting a bit bored with the same foods. You may also find find that your hunger cues become stunted as your body adjusts to consuming bigger meals. While your stomach expands to take in all the food, it is still a relatively low number of calories, which could lead to you consuming too few calories, even for a weight loss diet.

If you get too fixated on calorie density and only eating low-calorie foods, you may be verging into disordered eating patterns. While weight loss requires paying attention to your daily calorie intake, getting too obsessed with it could end up causing both psychological and physical damage. You do need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, but eating too little could lead to nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, binge eating, and more.

Additionally, if you have a history of disordered eating, volume eating may not be for you. It may lead to a relapse into eating too few calories or a fixation on calorie counting. If you're not sure if volume eating is right for you, check with your dietitian or health care provider.

How many calories should you eat for weight loss?

The number of calories someone should eat to lose weight depends completely on the individual and their current weight, activity level, health history, and weight loss goals. While eating low calorie meals and volume eating are generally good tools for weight loss, it's better to have a formalized plan and a structure to follow in order to reach your goals.

If you're trying to lose weight and aren't sure what low-calorie foods to eat, or even how many calories you should be consuming, a registered dietitian can help. An RD can teach you about volume eating and calorie density as tools to utilize in your weight loss journey and provide easy, nutritious, and satisfying low calorie meal ideas. They can teach you how to make your meals high in volume to promote greater satisfaction.

You can find a dietitian who specializes in weight loss easily with Fay. All you have to do is put in your health insurance information and peruse their directory of board-certified RDs. With Fay, you could pay as little as $0 per session.

Find a weight loss dietitian with Fay here.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.