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December 2003 Issue
Soup, soup, the magical meal; the more you eat, the lighter you feel.
by Michael Fick
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Don’t misunderstand. This approach doesn’t defy the number one rule of weight management: weight control is about calories in vs. calories out. It just takes advantage of another fact associated with this research: our satiety and thirst mechanisms are essentially independent. Water slides down our throat and stomach unnoticed by our satiety sensors. This explains why soda pop or fruit juice can be inordinately fattening; our bodies recognize them as water, not food, so their calories go unnoticed until they show up on our waist. Milk, and probably other protein-containing liquids, are recognized as food, and help us achieve and recognize satiety. Drink water for thirst, eat fruit rather than juice for hunger.

These findings were sufficiently significant that the professor leading the research, Dr. Barbara Rolls, wrote a book about them. Much of the book emphasizes fruit and vegetables’ naturally low calorie density, but a whole chapter focuses on soup research (honest!), which concluded that adding water to the food we eat helps reduce calorie intake. Women who ate a bowl of chicken soup felt fuller than those who ate chicken casserole plus a glass of water, even though both meals contained exactly the same ingredients and quantities. The soup-eaters also tended to be less hungry, and ate fewer calories at their next meal, than those who ate the casserole and drank the water separately. Energy density seems to apply during ingestion, not just in the stomach (otherwise, drinking the water on the side would work the same as thinning the casserole into soup).

Well, knock me over with a bullion cube! Soup works!

What’s good for soup is also good for smoothies; if both are based on relatively low-calorie, low-saturated fat ingredients. Sausage’n’Haagen Dasz smoothies and chicken-skin’n’cheddar soup don’t help. Choose broth or tomato-based soups, not Bluto’s Cream of Lard. To help keep your first-course soup dish under 100 calories, consult the nutrition labels and charts on your soup’s ingredients … or just make it from veggies.

Soup also helps us stay hydrated, which we need even if we do eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. We’re not talking thinning foods to a bullion consistency. In fact, adding water in the form of vegetables is an even better way to reduce its calorie density while improving its flavor, nutrition, texture, and “fill factor”. Just as good cooks learn to improve flavor with spices and herbs, any of us can learn to mix and match vegetables to enhance the soups we build.

“Build”? Yes; it’s easy and rewarding to start with a canned soup or foil-packed dry soup package, and then add veggies to suit our own tastes. This approach is a great way to prepare a one-dish meal when camping out, or to feed a stream of house guests or neighborhood kids on a chilly fall afternoon. When the pot runs low, add more ingredients and keep serving. Run out of beans? Add stewed tomatoes next time the pot runs low and call it chili rather than bean soup. Or just say, “Have some soup”.

The book presenting this research to the public establishes that eating low calorie density foods, including “pouring water in the casserole and calling it soup” – my phrase, not the authors’ -- really does help us lose weight. Go figure! The hardback version is "Volumetrics, Feel Full on Fewer Calories"; the paperback version is “The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan: Feel Full on Fewer Calories”. For professional and buyers’ reviews on the book, click here. Even if you assume the Amazon staff reviews are intended to help sell books, many other sources, including Health magazine, also commend the book.

Dr. Rolls emphasizes that Volumetrics is not a rapid weight loss program, and is definitely not a gorge-yourself-on-celery-and-water eating plan. It’s part of an overall weight management approach for people who enjoy eating and want to maintain a healthy weight. Eating soup before a meal tends to make women eat about 400 fewer calories per day while feeling just as full. And it does not conflict with the Mediterranean diet, repeatedly shown to be the healthiest diet known for people without abnormal food restrictions. It’s too bad so many people have been hoodwinked into the belief that avoiding carbohydrates is the correct path to lightness, because what’s soup without a slab of hot bread?

Soup. It’s what’s before dinner.

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