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Rating Alternative Diets for Seniors

Volumetrics for Seniors

This diet is all about losing weight without feeling hungry. It's based on the concept of "energy density," (E.D.) which means how concentrated the calories are in a portion of food. High-energy-density foods provide a large number of calories in a small serving, while low-energy-density foods provide a small number of calories in a large serving.

Quick Take


  • A diet based on the energy density of foods
  • Allows large servings of low-density foods
  • Encourages drinking lots of water and eating foods that have a high water content

This Diet Is Best for:

People who want some freedom of choice in planning their meals and feel they can go it alone. It is also a good choice for dieters who find it difficult to face an almost empty dinner plate.

Who Should Not Try This Diet:

Those who need a step-by-step diet plan and those who need a support system for success.

The Premise

Authors Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a nutrition researcher at Pennsylvania State University, and journalist Robert Barnett maintain that if you eat mostly low-energy-density foods you can eat more, satisfy your hunger, and still lose weight. For example, you can eat three Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies (53 calories each) or, for the same 160 calories, you can eat 1-1/2 bananas or two apples.

The fruit will satisfy you more because it's high in fiber. Fiber and water both fill you up, while water dilutes calories per portion. The higher the water content and/or the higher the fiber content, the lower the energy density of the food and the more volume the food has, which affects how full you feel. Keep fiber intake high, drink a lot of water, and eat a lot of foods high in water content and low in energy density and you will lose weight, promise the authors.

The Rationale

According to the authors' research, we all tend to eat the same average weight in food every day, no matter how many calories the food contains. The Volumetrics approach is to eat the same volume of food but lower the number of calories by eating foods that are higher in fiber and water. If you do, you'll consume fewer calories and lose weight without that empty feeling in your gut.

Once you learn to think about the energy density of foods, you'll be surprised by how much food you can eat. While Volumetrics may seem like a gimmick, it's really the same message nutritionists have been preaching for years: Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and beans, and eat less high fat, low-nutrient junk foods.

Eating on Volumetrics

There are no menus that you have to follow and no mandates as to how or when certain foods should be eaten. Instead, Volumetrics contains extensive charts of the energy density (E.D.) and caloric content of one serving of dozens of foods, making it easy to make good low-cal, low-density choices.

Though the charts are extensive, you can calculate the E.D. of any food by dividing the number of calories per serving by the weight in grams per serving. Both numbers are usually provided on a product's Nutrition Facts label.

The authors provide a collection of 12 breakfast menus, 10 lunch menus, and 25 dinner menus, plus a list of 200-calorie snacks. You'll also find more than 60 pages of recipes for dishes that have low E.D.s. Soup is promoted as an appetite controller, and research is cited showing that eating soup before meals may help control calorie intake due to its high volume, high water content, and low calorie count.

Overall, the diet provides about 20 to 30 percent of calories from fat, 55 percent from carbohydrate, and 15 percent from protein. The diet also includes 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day and lots of water -- 9 cups a day for women and 12 cups a day for men -- from food and beverages.

What the Experts Say

Rolls is an expert in appetite and appetite control and has been researching the topic for years. She has published dozens of scientific papers on the topic and has translated them into a practical diet.

According to Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., nutrition counselor in Reading, Massachusetts, "Volumetrics is all about a dieting philosophy that nutritionists have been preaching for years -- choose foods wisely and you can eat more." The authors also make exercise an integral part of the Volumetrics plan, a recommendation about which all experts agree.

The diet is a healthful one that encourages the consumption of more plant foods. If you are true to the Volumetrics formula for eating, you should feel satisfied and still lose weight. Though the plan emphasizes foods with low caloric density, those same foods are high in nutrient density, a real plus for you now that you're over 50.

As is the case with even the most well-balanced diets, calcium and vitamin D may still be a concern, and it's best to get nutrition insurance with a calcium and vitamin D supplement to give your bones full protection. The diet also emphasizes fluid intake. While the intent is to fill you up so you don't get hungry, fluid intake is especially important as you get older to avoid dehydration.

Calorie quota: Calories aren't really counted, but the dieter is expected to keep track of the E.D.'s of different foods and stick, as much as possible, with those at the low end of the E.D. scale. However, the diet does suggest that you can reduce your calorie intake by about 500 to 1,000 calories a day by following the diet's guidelines for eating.

Yes: Lots of water, high-fiber foods, fruits and vegetables, large volumes of low-energy-density foods

No: Foods that provide a lot of calories in small servings, restricting total food intake

Other similar diets: The Picture Perfect Diet, The Pritikin Principle

To learn more about senior health, see:


Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.