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Which foods satisfy most? Find out!

An Australian study identifies the foods that will fill you up for the least amount of calories. Phil Lempert has details.

Ever wonder why certain foods make us feel “more satisfied” than others?

This was a question asked by a team at the University of Sydney, in Australia. The result: “The Satiety Index,” a measure of how full a particular food makes a person feel after eating it. Understanding this could make all the difference for those who overeat, and could become a very valuable tool for consumers (and, of course, the marketers who are trying to make money off of them).

The study was conducted using 38 different foods, each eaten in a 240-calorie portion. The subjects reported how “full” they felt immediately after eating each of the 38 foods and were then questioned every 15 minutes on how full they felt to see if what they said matched their eating patterns. They also were monitored as to how much they ate from a buffet two hours later.

The scientists conducting the study used white bread as the baseline and assigned it a satiety index of 100. Foods that were more filling per calorie had a higher index.

Ice cream, a product most would think of as being very satisfying, was less filling than white bread, with an index of 96 percent. Foods that had a high index (around one and a half times as filling as white bread, or greater) included popcorn, bran cereal, oatmeal, grain bread, whole-meal bread, brown pasta, potatoes, cheese, eggs, baked beans, beef, fish, grapes, apples, and oranges. (See chart below.)

As a general rule, the more fiber, protein and water a food has, the higher the index. The “bulkiness” of an item makes it more filling as well, which is the case with popcorn and potatoes (although fried potatoes did not rank nearly as filling as plain boiled potatoes, which had by far the highest score).

Perhaps surprisingly, the study found that foods high in fat caused the participants to feel hungrier after a shorter period of time. In the body’s metabolism, fat is absorbed as “storable” energy — to be used by the body later. Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates or protein are seen as “use-it-now” energy and therefore signal to the body that it is satiated.

Foods that are high in fiber and/or protein (for instance, grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, lentils/beans, fish, eggs, and cheese) not only measured as immediately satisfying, but also took longer to digest, thus keeping the testers fuller for longer per unit calorie.

Phil’s Bottom Line: The Satiety Index is a potentially important tool, particularly for those attempting to watch the amount of food they consume. The findings, especially when coupled with the new very specific Recommended Daily Allowance of three servings of whole grains per day, gives credibility to the opportunity for healthy foods that are low in fat and rich in fibers.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent