A famous study in 2000 compared the impact of soda versus jelly beans. Researchers had people add 28 extra spoonfuls of sugar to their daily diet in the form of jelly beans or soda. Then, they measured how many calories participants ate over the rest of the day to see if their bodies would compensate for all that extra sugar. For the jelly bean group, their bodies registered all the extra calories from the handfuls of jelly beans and they ended up eating less of everything else throughout the day. So, they ate pretty much the same number of calories before and after adding the jelly beans to their diet.
But, for the soda group, despite all the added calories from the cans of pop they were drinking every day, they kept eating about the same amount. No wonder they gained weight after a month of drinking soda. Their bodies didn’t seem to recognize the extra calories when they were in liquid form and therefore didn’t compensate by reducing their appetite for the rest of the day.
What if we drink a smoothie for breakfast instead of eating a solid meal? Will our body think we skipped breakfast and make us so ravenous at lunch we’d eat more than we normally would and end up gaining weight? To answer this, we first have to determine if this solid versus liquid calorie effect is real. Soda and jelly beans don’t just differ by physical form; they have different ingredients. That’s a problem with a lot of these kinds of studies: They use dissimilar foods.
Take, for example, the study comparing liquid to solid breakfasts in my video below. Researchers gave participants breakfasts of either fruit juices and skim milk or oatmeal with blueberries and apples. Not so surprisingly, study subjects were less hungry after the oatmeal. But, that may not be a solid versus liquid effect, as the breakfasts were comprised of completely different foods.
To test for a solid versus liquid effect, you’d have to use the exact same foods in two different forms. Finally, a study did just that. Researchers looked at what happens if you have a fruit salad with raw apples, apricots and bananas with three cups of water to drink versus blending the fruit with two of the cups of water to make smoothie and then just drinking the third cup of water. It’s the identical meal—one in solid form and one in smoothie form. What happened? People felt significantly less full after the smoothie, although it was the same amount of food and fiber. In smoothie form, it didn’t fill people up as much as eating fruit au natural.
Originally, we thought it was due to the lack of chewing. The act of chewing itself may be an I’ve-eaten-enough signal that you don’t get just by drinking. Researchers had people chew either 10 or 35 times per mouthful and eat pasta until they felt comfortably full. Those forced to chew 35 times per bite ended up eating about a third of a cup less pasta than those who only chewed 10 times per bite. So there we have it: We had the proof of solid versus liquid effect and the mechanism. But, as so often happens in science, just when we have everything neatly wrapped up with a bow, a paradox arises. In this case, the great soup paradox.
Pureed, blended soup—essentially a hot, green smoothie of blended vegetables—is more satiating than the same veggies in solid form. The same meal in liquid form was more filling than in solid form. So, it can’t be the chewing that has the satiating effect. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be a solid versus liquid effect at all since cold smoothies appear to be less filling, but hot smoothies appear to be more filling. They are so filling that when people have soup as a first course, they eat so much less of the main course, that they eat fewer calories overall, even when you add in the soup calories.
How can we explain this paradox? Maybe pureed fruit is less filling than solid, but pureed vegetables are more filling? To test this, Purdue University researchers used apple soup. They mixed about a cup of apple juice with two cups of applesauce, liquefied it in a blender, and heated it up. If you have people eat three actual apples, they started out pretty hungry, but within 15 minutes of eating the apples, they were hardly hungry at all. Drinking three cups of apple juice didn’t cut hunger much, but what about the apple soup, which was pretty much just hot apple juice with applesauce mixed in? The apple soup cut hunger almost as much as the whole apples, even more than an hour later. It even beat out whole apples for decreasing overall calorie intake for the day.
What’s so special about soup? What does eating soup have in common with prolonged chewing that differentiates it from smoothie drinking? Time. It took about twice as long to chew 35 times. And think about how long it takes to eat a bowl of soup compared to drinking a smoothie. Eating slower reduces calorie intake.
Alternatively, maybe we just imagine soup to be filling, so it’s like a placebo effect. Feelings like hunger and fullness are subjective. People tend to report hunger more in accordance with how many calories they think something has rather than the actual caloric content. If you study people with no short-term memory, like the characters in the movie Memento who can’t remember what happened more than a minute ago, they can overdose on food because they forgot they just ate, which shows what poor judges we are of our own hunger.
It’s not just subjective effects, either. In a famous study called Mind Over Milkshakes, people were offered two different milkshakes, one described as indulgent, “decadence you deserve,” and the other a sensible, “guilt-free satisfaction.” People have different hormonal responses to them even though they were being fooled and given the exact same milkshake.
Finally, maybe it was just because the soup was hot, and warmer foods may be more satiating? How do we figure out if the solution to the soup mystery was time, thought, or temperature? If only the study we discussed earlier that had subjects eat either a fruit salad with three cups of water or drink the same exact foods in smoothie form had a third group—a liquid eating group, too. Well, it did!
Researchers also offered the fruit smoothie in a bowl to be eaten cold with a spoon. (Very un-soup-like.) So, if it were thought or temperature, the fullness rating would be down by the liquid drinking. However, if it was just the slowed eating rate that made soup as filling as solid food, then the fullness rating would be up closer to the solid eating rating—and it was exactly as high. The only real reason smoothies aren’t as filling is because we gulp them down, but if we sip them slowly over time, they can be just as filling as if we ate the fruits and veggies solid.
Wow, that study thought of everything. You don’t know the half of it! They also wanted to see if it would work with high-fat smoothies. So, what, almond butter or walnuts? No, they used a liquefied fat smoothie of steamed pork belly.
I guess sometimes smoothies can suppress your appetite.
Michael Greger, M.D.
PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.