the 500 calorie breakfast experiment
(Scroll Further down to see our VIDEO of the experiment!)
So I bore the fuck out of my children a lot when I talk about why I eat the way I do, and so I try to make it as fun and interesting as possible. And the conversation of calories came up to them and as I was trying to explain the difference between high nutrient dense and low nutrient dense food I started to explain how foods can be really sneaky and you don’t realize how many calories are in something really small vs something really big. Now if I was doing this experiment properly I’d probably let them have a bunch of shit food that’s high in calories but wouldn't fill them up to show them the real difference - but I just can’t do that…
So what we decided is that for four weeks in a row we’d have one of our breakfasts be 500 calories of a different type of food. And the types we picked are: Oatmeal, Tofu, Apples and Nuts. As you can image the portions of these foods look vastly different. Here’s the quantities of those foods in terms of those calories:
Oatmeal - 3 1/3 cups (cooked) with a little cinnamon for flavour
Tofu - Roughly two 8 oz blocks - plus a 3/4 cup of salsa to help eat it so it’s not bland as fuck
Apples - 2 pounds, 2 oz (roughly 9 small apples)
Nuts - It’s roughly 3.15 oz depending on the sort of nut you choose and roughly about 3/4 cup.
Why did we pick those foods?
They all are nutrient dense foods (more-or-less) but they all have different nutrient ratios associated with them.
The oatmeal is probably the most balanced in terms of how we should be eating our carbs-fats-proteins. In terms of it's macro-nutritional-make-up it's: 70% Carbs, 17% Fat, and 13% Protein.
The tofu is close to equal in terms of fat and protein with a smaller portion of carbs: 44% Fat, 40% Protein, and 16% Carbs.
The apples are super high in volume and the most different - they’re almost entirely carbs with just a little fats and proteins. Their breakdown being: 94% Carbs, 4% Fat, and 2% Protein.
And the nuts are largely fats with a small ratio of both carb and protein: 69% Fat, 18% Carbs, and 13% Protein.
Now this wasn’t meant to be an “eat until you feel sick” challenge. Part of the experiment is to see how much of this type of food it takes to make you feel full as well. So if you get half-way through something and you can’t eat anymore that’s totally fine. That’s kind of the point of this. So I told the kids to eat at a regular pace and not push it further than they normally would when eating. And then we would see how much they ate before they got full, and then see how long until they got hungry again.
Why 500 calories?
Well, I was doing this with my son when we initially planed it, and for his age, and mine, 500 calories is a pretty standard amount of calories for a meal - if not on the low side for some people. So it didn’t feel like an amount that would be either too little or too much.
How did it go down?!
We made a video! Check it out right here:
Or, you know, keep fucking reading… either works.
So for the first round we decided to do oatmeal. My daughter joined in at the last minute so my wife whipped up some oatmeal quickly for her as well and it wasn’t quite the same amount.
So we all finished in or around the same time within a few minutes of each other. I finished my entire bowl, but I was definitely full by the end. I didn’t push it further than I was comfortable.
My son and daughter both tapped out a bit early and he ate 344 calories worth and she ate 268 calories worth. Now here’s where it gets interesting. My son, an hour and a little bit later, claimed that he was hungry and ate an apple. My daughter lasted about 2 1/2 hours before she was hungry and followed suit with a sandwich. I realized that they’re both used to eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast and then having snack at school most days - so this was actually pretty typical for them in terms of the amount of calories they’d have at breakfast and then when they’d get hungry for a snack later on. It’s worth noting they didn’t eat the entire 500 calories like I did. How long did I last? I didn’t eat again for 4hrs. And I wasn’t by any means starving, I was just about right.
So for round two we all did tofu - the kids baked theirs and I had mine scrambled. To my absolute fucking shock we all ate all of it. And ALL of us were hungry about two hours later. So keeping in mind that the kids only ate about half the oatmeal the week before, this was double the amount of food in terms of calories, and it didn’t fill them up nearly as much, nor did it me.
Much like the oatmeal it was just a visibly higher volume of food - it’s roughly nine apples. Neither of the kids ate the whole amount and all of us were hungry about two hours later. So in terms of satiation it was pretty solid in terms of nutrient density in that the kids couldn’t eat the full 500 calories before they were full.
So we each went with a slightly different selection of nuts, but all totalled 500 calories. It was easily our smallest portion of food of the four groups we’d had with just less than a cup. As no shocker we all ate the full amount, and we felt REALLY full afterwards. But that similar thing crept in as it had with the tofu and apples - about two hours later we were starting to feel hunger and ready for a snack or meal.
Oatmeal fucking rocks. There’s a reason so many people talk about the staying power of oats for breakfast. That shit fills you up and sticks to your ribs and digests slowly. As the only one who ate the full amount of each type of food, the oatmeal was the only one that kept me totally going until it was time for my next meal. Of these four breakfasts I’d say that it was the only “complete” meal. I can’t say I’d recommend eating THAT much oatmeal for breakfast - but I think a proper serving balanced with some fruit, nuts/seeds, and dried fruit, will make for a super nutritious and balanced breakfast. The kids couldn’t eat the full 500 calories and therefore it didn’t fully sustain them until their next meal - but then neither did either of the other food options and they ate way more calories worth of those. So in terms of bang-for-caloric buck Oatmeal is the clear winner.
In terms of the other foods? They’re all healthy and awesome things that should be part of your meals. As the adult in the experiment it was somewhat surprising to me that the apples - with their massive density and water content - filled me up the same amount satiation level as the tofu, and especially the nuts, which took up only a fraction of that space in my stomach.
So smash some oatmeal into your life. It’ll sustain you for several hours making it a solid choice - especially since it’s well balanced in it’s nutrition make-up. I would still never eat JUST oatmeal for breakfast - I’d want to have some fruit and nuts in there. But it’ll do in a pinch on its own if it had to.
I’ve got a bunch of recipes for breakfast over HERE that you can check out if you need some inspiration.
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