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How can I eat a low-calorie diet as a vegan?

The most filling and healthful foods tend to be high in protein, fiber, or both. These two nutrients promote satiety, which is the feeling of fullness. Legumes and soy-based products are examples of foods that are high in protein and fiber, while fibrous, fat-rich foods, such as avocado and almonds, also promote satiety.

The satiety of food is an important concept in weight management. Foods that provide a feeling of fullness for extended periods may reduce how much and how often a person feels the need to eat each day. Although this could potentially help lower total calorie intake, a 2014 study showed that a short-term reduction in hunger does not necessarily translate to long-term weight loss.

When filling foods are low in calories, they are even more beneficial for weight management. Identifying low-calorie foods that effectively reduce hunger is a useful step in creating a diet plan.

What makes a filling food?

Chickpea and potato curry
Potatoes and pulses are both filling foods.

In 1995, researchers developed a satiety index. The aim of this index, which Kellogg’s funded in part, was to rank 38 common foods in order of the satiety of a 1,000-calorie portion, using white bread as a comparison.

This index is one of several attempts by scientists to determine the most filling foods. According to this research, the weight of a food serving seems to be a good predictor of how filling it is, regardless of calorie content.

However, this satiety index only ranked foods in the following categories: fruits, bakery products, snack foods, carbohydrate-rich foods, protein-rich foods, and breakfast cereals. It did not include nonstarchy high-fiber vegetables, plant-based fat-rich foods — such as avocado, nuts, and seeds — and berries, which are the fruits highest in fiber.

Vegan diets are more restrictive than many other diets. Although research has repeatedly shown that protein is the macronutrient that provides the most satiety, there is still a good selection of filling low-calorie foods for vegans. In this article, we use the index to discuss some of the most filling options for a vegan diet.


Potatoes

According to the satiety index, boiled or baked white potatoes are the most filling food, with a score of 323.

A medium-sized baked potato contains about 161 calories. Potatoes are rich in starch, a type of complex carbohydrate that provides a sustainable source of energy. They are also a good source of folate and vitamins A and C.

Fried potatoes rank much lower on the satiety index with a score of 116.

They are higher in calories and have a poorer nutritional profile than baked or boiled potatoes. For these reasons, it is best to stick to baked or boiled potatoes.

Pulses

Pulses are a group of nutrient-dense foods from the legume family. Common pulses include:

  • beans
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • lentils

Baked beans and lentils scored 168 and 133 respectively on the index, which does not include any other legumes.

According to a 2014 review, dietary pulses are effective in promoting short-term satiety.

Pulses are low in fat, high in fiber and iron, and a good source of vitamins. They may also reduce the risk of chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Oats

oats in a bowl which are an iron rich food
Oats are rich in protein and fiber.

Oats are a type of grain that is popular as a healthful breakfast cereal.

Oats are low in saturated fat and contain several minerals, including thiamine, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. They are rich in protein, with 100 grams (g) of oats containing 13.15 g of protein.

Oats are also rich in fiber, which is important for the digestive system. It slows down digestion and promotes satiety.

Porridge ranks in third place on the satiety index with a score of 209.

Fruit

Fruits are well-established as a staple component of any healthful diet.

While fruits can contain high levels of the sugar fructose, they have an excellent nutritional profile. Most fruits are low in calories and rich in nutrients that are often lacking in a regular diet, such as vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and folate.

Fruits can also be filling. Oranges and apples rank fourth and fifth on the satiety index respectively, while grapes come in at ninth with a score of 162. The researchers did not test berries, but it is likely that they would have ranked higher than the study’s included fruits due to their high fiber content.


Soy

Soybeans come from the same legume family as pulses, but they are a wet bean. A wide range of soy-based products, such as tofu and soy milk, are now available, and stores often sell them as alternatives to meat and dairy products.

Soybeans are nutrient-dense. They are rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Soy products are also a good source of protein, which means that they can provide satiety.

Popcorn

man reaching for popcorn
Some studies suggest that popcorn is more filling than potato chips.

Popcorn is a high-fiber, whole-grain food that comes from corn kernels. Although it is a low-calorie snack, popcorn can be very filling.

One cup of popcorn contains just 30.6 calories and very little saturated fat. It also provides dietary fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals.

In one study, researchers compared the satiety of popcorn and potato chips in adults with a healthy body weight.

They found that the participants felt less hunger and more satisfaction after consuming popcorn than potato chips.


Summary

Many low-calorie filling foods are suitable for those following vegan diets. A person can often determine how filling a food is likely to be by looking at its nutritional content. Healthful foods that are high in protein, fiber, or both tend to be filling. Rich sources of protein for vegans include foods such as soybeans, pulses, and some nuts and seeds. Oats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruit are all good sources of fiber.

Including more filling foods in the diet can decrease the amount that a person eats or how often they consume food. As a result, their total daily calorie intake may become lower.

However, to remain healthy, it is also important to maintain a balanced lifestyle that includes adequate sleep, stress management, regular exercise, and a consistently healthful diet. People should also ensure that the filling foods that they select are rich in other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

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