The Power of Staple Foods

A few years ago, I read something Precision Nutrition posted about how the people with the best and the worst physiques tend to eat the same meals over and over. It is an interesting concept to ponder and I think about that observation frequently.

On one end of the spectrum, we see people that are grossly overweight. To be extremely heavy requires a significant number of calories. This requires either planning or shortcuts. A heavy person knows that a pint of ice cream or a pizza is more likely to fill them up and turn off the hunger signals than healthy meals. So over time, they gravitate to staple high-calorie meals they don’t need to think about. This is what Precision Nutrition discovered with their clients.

At the other end of the spectrum are the athletes and successful dieters. To be lean in a modern environment of endless food choices and limited time also requires shortcuts. This is where meal planning and building staples becomes important.

Constructing a staple that is low in calories and high is satiety is the goal. Preferably it needs to something that is quick to assemble or something you can make in larger quantities. Once you have this staple, repeat it throughout the week. How many times is up to you.

Without staples, every meal becomes a decision. A choice to eat something different. A chance to use food as more than fuel, but also for entertainment and novelty. Sometimes you’ll make good decisions and sometimes you won’t. You’ll be fighting against an environment where most people are losing. You may not be able to hold onto or achieve the leanness you desire.

With staples, you carve out calorie deficits through the week. Little to no planning is required. Build your staples. Decide and execute. Repeatably lock in those deficits.

I learned the magic of staples during the Potato Hack and as I’ve gotten leaner, I’ve built upon that diet with Potatoes and Protein. It hits satiety from two angles (food volume -aka volumetrics– and increased protein).

Most dieters either fail to lose weight or to keep it off. They aren’t making strategic use of high-satiety staples. They are using willpower and hope. That rarely works.


I list a few of the staples I eat on the post Potatoes and Protein – A No Hunger Template For Fat Loss.


Add yours

  1. This reminds me of Clarence Bass’ “uniform eating”.

    My big meal is breakfast and it rarely changes. It’s based on:

    1. 2-egg omelette
    2. 6 vegetable stir-fry

    And then usually 2 out of the next 3:

    3. oatmeal (+whey powder)
    4. tofu (fish flakes + soy sauce) or natto
    5. fruit salad with cottage cheese/yogurt

    I eat this for breakfast 90-95% of the time. It’s not especially high satiety, but it is satisfying. Now that the routine is established, there are few decisions to make, I get up and just start chopping vegetables. It simplifies grocery shopping as well.

  2. @garymar – I love cottage cheese on boiled potatoes. It might be my #1 staple.

  3. For lunch had a little canned mackerel, then lots of boiled potatoes and cottage cheese.

    Yep, very filling. And cottage cheese and potatoes are a tasty combination.

    I may try this a couple times a week and see if it helps me power thru the evening’s fast.

  4. I find fibrous carbohydrates such as beans or potatoes, (Peasant Diet) are staples that lead to my satiety. I’ve learned to pressure cook both. Usually obesity leave loose skin. How can we use the staple to tighten loose skin, decrease IGF-1 for reduction of cancer risks, and keep heart disease risks minimal?

    Dr Ellington Darden once promoted a carbohydrate percentage of 60. Even that is a low percentage for loose skin tightening. The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes a 5% protein diet percentage for healthy active lifestyles. This accounts for a WIDE safety margin. For those who want to argue for arguing’s sake, I am not a vegetarian at all. To lose fat on a 1400 calorie Dr Darden’s type diet, one would need less than 20 grams of protein a day for a 5% protein diet. The Newcastle study to reduce diabetes type 2 was even less calories at 800 calories a day. This amount of protein can easily be met with plant based food. Fat and oils are problematic in that they inflame the endothelial cells of blood vessels. Heart disease and Viagra prescriptions – dig it? Thus a low % of fat in the diet can also be healthy.

    This information has been known and ignored for many decades. In 1903 Professor Russell Henry Chittenden and in the 1940s Dr William Rose had shown about 20 grams of protein daily was all that was needed for healthy active lifestyles. All plants easily provide this amount of protein and the essential amino acids. This has been a myth perpetuated for many years now. To remind, carbs, cokes and pizza built the bodybuilder named Sergio Olivia and animals such as hippos, elephants and gorillas. Finally, even babies get 5% protein from nature’s breast milk.

    Another myth to dispel is one needs to mix vegetables to get all the essential amino acids. The vegetable foods contain more than enough of all the amino acids essential for humans.…ooks/NBK234922/

    The gut recycles amino acids and keeps the blood amino acid pool intact. No one should ever worry about combining foods to complete essential amino acids requirements. Complete myth.

    The largest organ of the body is the skin, And in particular the innermost layer consists of proteins, including collagen and elastin. Collagen, a protein matrix makes up 80% of your skin’s structure. This could be a great source of protein to recycle. When one is in that fasted state , and has a very low protein intake, the body could turn over that protein base and theoretically tighten loose skin. That is the apoptotic process. History shows that those who were intentionally deprived of food had very little loose skin. Mankind does have problems.

  5. @Marc – I’ve been thinking about doing a post or two that supports a lot of what you just posted but from a different angle.

    There are 2 factors of concern I have with low-protein recommendations.
    1- As we age, we become less efficient at processing protein, so our needs increase.
    2- At lower body-fat levels, higher protein is needed to defend muscle loss (search P-Ratio on this blog).

    So to your question about tightening loose skin. I touched on that topic in this post:

  6. @ MAS,

    I see very few older patients with protein deficiencies. Perhaps, somewhere, somehow, this might be possible today, but I doubt it.
    I disagree with a statement made in one of your P-Ratio posts. Carbohydrates are considered protein sparing, not additional protein intake. A lack of sufficient carbohydrate intake leads to to muscle wasting due to the alanine cycle.
    Not much wrong with a plain ole Peasant Diet.


    Dietary effects of Fats and oils that are detrimental on blood vessel endothelial cell lining.

  8. @Marc – Perhaps. My P-Ratio concerns primarily kick in when a low level of body fat is reached. 14-15% BF is perfectly fine and healthy for a man. But, what if that person wanted to go to 8%?

    Would increasing the protein at that stage be good insurance on defending muscle? Or would the person be fine if carb levels were high and fat was low? I don’t know the answer, so I listen to someone like Lyle McDonald that has worked on this question for many years. Hence, the P-Ratio.

    This is one of those “under-the-hood” questions that I don’t know if I can arrive at a definitive answer. I do know that this past winter, my protein has been higher and my activity has been lower. My result is I’ve been leaner. It has been effortless. Most winters I just assume a 5-7 pound increase that falls away in the spring and early summer. Not this year though. Higher protein appears to be working for me, but it could also be lower fat or a combo of both. Beats me.

  9. Mike Mentzer and Tom Platz were carb eating monsters. Tom Platz had paper-thin skin and utilized around 6000 calories a day, with very limited fat intake , with 300-400 grams of carbohydrates daily. He included aerobics. Protein does not drive body fat percentage. The body prefers fat and carbs for energy needs.

  10. @Marc – I found this article that stated Mentzer got 25% of his calories from protein.

    My comment was not about energy in general, it was about the appropriate amount of protein in a calorie deficit. And that amount varies depending upon how lean one is. (This is the LM claim, which I suspect has some truth.)

  11. Not wanting to be obdurate, I would need to read more of what LM has to say on P-Ratio to make a logical statement. I am not persuaded at this moment to reach out and understand this concept, after all, this is not a medical term that I am use to seeing discussed for any length in any dietary research literature.


  12. @Marc – This podcast episode covers P-Ratio in just over an hour.

    It is worth a listen.

    I don’t know how much of dietary research is focused on the elite physiques. I’m guessing not much.

  13. Back when Freetheanimal was discussing resistant starch, I was hunting around for a way to get a lot of RS3, the cooked and cooled type, and came across this recipe.

    I lost a ton of weight eating this 3-5 days a week for lunch. I got sick of it eventually and went off it, but am re-discovering it now that I’m contending with some new fatherhood weight. You could make an argument that it works because of resistant starch, or that its somewhat bland ala food reward, or maybe its just the collection of a lot of things that are good for you in a neat package (garlic, chickpeas, onions, cinnamon etc). But if I eat it three days in a row, my appetite goes way down as does my weight (the effects seem to kick in on day 2).

    It’s kind of an accidental staple food for me. I don’t get the same effect from other bean and rice dishes, much as I wish I did. Overall, I really wish there was more discussion of repetitive simple foods online.

    One thing to note, I add an half cup of rice and cup of broth to bulk it up and I cook it in the oven at 350 for 40 mins. Produces more consistent results than stovetop that tends to burn. You can produce a pretty big batch that way. Seems like when I try to double the recipe it never quite works.

  14. @tml_mpls – thanks for sharing. I like the look of that recipe.

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