Smart eaters: Humans may know ‘right size’ portions of high-calorie foods


New research is challenging the belief that humans cannot moderate food according to its calorie content. Evan Dalen/Stocksy Humans were thought to be unaware of the energy content of the foods they eat, and therefore, believed to have a tendency to eat the same amount of food in weight, regardless of its energy density.

However, a new study finds that humans may have more nutritional intelligence than thought. The research shows that in a real-world setting, people reached a point where they limit the food they eat according to the calories it contains.

In everyday life, we are surrounded by well-promoted, palatable energy-dense high fat foods making it easy for people to exceed their energy expenditure, contributing to weight gain and obesity.

Until now, it has been generally accepted that people possess a willingnessTrusted Source to overeat high-energy or calorie-rich foods, consuming them in the same way as energy or calorie-poor foods.

A new study from researchers at the University of Bristol suggests humans subconsciously limit the size of their meals according to the calorie content of the food.

This, researchers say, stems from inherent nutritional wisdom or nutritional intelligence, or people’s ability to respond to the nutritional content of the food that they eat or are planning to eat.The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Real life and controlled eating Speaking to Medical News Today, Dr. Jeff Brunstrom, professor of experimental psychology and one of the study authors, explained that the traditional way to look at dietary behavior is to “take the food and then to manipulate the food”. He said researchers then generally add extra calories or protein to the food and study the participant’s response to see if there is any change. In the current study, researchers studiedTrusted Source participants’ responses to meals eaten in a controlled environment. They monitored and recorded the meals of 20 healthy adults who lived in a metabolic hospital ward for 4 weeks.

The researchers also included “free-living” participants taking part in the U.K. national diet and nutrition survey in their study. They recorded all the foods and drinks the participants consumed via a diet diary for 7 days.

In total, the researchers analyzed 32,162 meals after excluding snacks (<200 kcals) and meals that were high density (>4 kcals/gm). The researchers recorded the calorie content, grams, and energy density (kcal/gm) of all meals.

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