According to new research, there are three main factors that contribute to caloric intake at mealtime. Researchers have studied the effects of different meal characteristics on calorie consumption. They found that fast, energy-dense meals, as well as highly appetizing foods, were linked to higher calorie intake in four diets.
They noted that further research is needed to confirm their findings. Global obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975.

The main cause of obesity is a long-term energy imbalance: consuming more calories than the body has the ability to burn. Research on dietary practices that lead to weight loss is therefore essential to treat obesity. Studies have shown that eating fast and energy-dense foods—meaning foods that contain more calories per gram—is linked to more food intake. Other data has shown that highly palatable foods can be artificially rewarded for consumption. On the other hand, higher protein intake has been associated with increased satiety and lower energy intake. A better understanding of the main characteristics of diets could facilitate the design of diets to treat obesity.

Recently, researchers investigated how meal characteristics affect calorie intake in four different eating patterns. They found that the energy density of meals, the speed with which meals are eaten, and the consumption of hyper-appetizing foods affect calorie intake. This new study is published in Nature.

What they did

The researchers analyzed data collected from 35 people who participated in two hospital-based feeding studies. All participants were between the ages of 18 and 50 and had a stable weight over the previous 6 months. During the studies, they were exposed to minimally processed diets, which varied widely in carbohydrate and fat content, or to diets containing moderate levels of carbohydrate and fat, with ultra-processed and minimally processed foods. transformed. Participants were exposed to two different diets with 7-day rotating menus for two weeks each. They were asked to eat as much as they wanted from each diet.

In total, the researchers had comprehensive data on 2,733 meals, including their energy density, protein content, the rate at which they ate, and the percentage of hyper-appetizing foods consumed: defined as high in fat, sodium, fat and sugar, or high in carbohydrates or salt. Ultimately, the researchers found that energy density, percentage of hyper-appetizing foods eaten, and eating speed were all correlated with increased energy intake, regardless of diet: low fat, low carbohydrate, unprocessed food diet and ultra-processed food diet. They found, however, that higher protein intake only correlated with increased energy intake in unprocessed and ultra-processed diets with moderate carbohydrate and fat levels.

They also found that protein intake at the previous meal was linked to greater energy intake at subsequent meals on the low-fat, low-carb diets, but was reduced on the ultra-processed diet. . The researchers wrote that their results suggest that energy density, meal frequency, and the percentage of protein and highly palatable foods consumed are important predictors of energy intake.

Increase calorie intake

Energy density means how many calories are in a certain amount of food. The higher the energy density of a food, the less it must be absorbed to have a high caloric intake. For example, a tablespoon of peanut butter contains about 100 calories, compared to a tablespoon of cooked oats which contains 15 calories.

Hyper-palatable foods also tend to be energy-dense and higher in refined carbohydrates, making it easy to eat a large amount of these foods without being truly satisfied. The speed at which you eat can also make a big difference in how much you eat. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the satiety signals from our stomach to reach our brain. Therefore, if you eat a large meal in just 10 minutes, it will take some time before you actually register your satiety signals.

Study limitations

The present study is limited by the fact that it was a secondary analysis of previously published feeding trials in hospitalized research participants housed in the Metabolic Clinical Research Unit at the NIH Clinical Center. Although this environment allowed for accurate and precise measurements of food intake and provided excellent control over the food environment, it is unclear how our results extrapolate to more natural environments. In addition, the adults were all relatively young, with an average age of 29-31 years, and fiber intake was not taken into account, which can significantly affect the energy density consumed. Further research would be needed to see if the trends are consistent across other age groups.


As with all things nutrition, one of the implications would be to eat a very varied diet in order to get a wide range of calorie-dense foods. Like low density from broths and salads, and high density from foods like nuts. Another implication of these findings would be that eating slowly is beneficial in terms of regulating overall calorie intake, as is eating the least processed/unprocessed foods possible.

When we eat unprocessed/least processed foods, we get a lot more water from the food. Consider a fruit or vegetable rather than vegetable flavored crisps.
So, when we eat unprocessed foods, we consume fewer calories and their caloric density is lower. All this is important for food! A whole, plant-based diet fits that criteria very well.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.