By David Grotto, RD, LDN
Whether real or perceived, “hunger” is a very powerful feeling that can cause us to eat more than usual… even eat things we would never dream of. What originally was reserved as a signaling mechanism that our fuel tank was getting low is now artificially spurred on by enticing smells, food photography, or even a blogger’s passion for the food he loves.
Satiety refers to the state of being full or gratified beyond the point of satisfaction. We are all on a quest for constant and consistent satiety. Hunger is an uncomfortable feeling which some can tolerate for quite some time while others experience an irrational sense that they will waste away before your eyes if they don’t eat something immediately. There are many factors that influence satiety, including signals from the digestive system to the brain. The food we eat, comprised of carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and fat influence how hormones such as the glucagon-like peptide 1, peptide YY, leptin, ghrelin, and insulin are released. Stress and other emotions and physical activity can also influence hunger hormones too.
So, how can we over come both real and fake hunger?
Check your gauges. Did you just eat a little while ago? When was the last time you drank something? Yes, even being thirsty can often present itself as being hungry. If you recently ate or haven’t had liquids for some time now, drink a glass or two of cold, refreshing H2O and recheck your hunger in 15 minutes. That “feeing” should dissipate in that time and if it doesn’t, eat something!
Eat! There’s a bit of controversy on how often you should eat. Are you a “three squares a day” or a “frequent feeder” that eats every three to four hours to combat hunger? Nothing wrong with either approach, and if you need to eat every three to four hours, do so. You know your body best. Just make sure that you’re not eating out of boredom. And don’t eat just anything: There are foods that science suggests do a better job of controlling hunger than others.
What to eat? Five best hunger-busting foods.
The amount of energy (calories) in a food or meal and the composition of a single food or meal affects how much food we eat at one time. Out of all the nutrients, dietary fiber and protein have the strongest hunger-busting affects. Though fat takes the longest to go through our digestive tract, it also has the least satiating value when compared to carbs and protein. An overall balanced diet combined with physical activity was found to have the greatest influence on controlling hunger according to a study in the Obesity Reviews journal. Look to these foods, as part of a balanced diet, to help smack down hunger.
Lean protein: 70% of the protein in the American diet comes from animal and fish sources. Studies show a high-protein meal can increase satiety for people whose normal diet is low in protein. Lean meats, without skin and cooked with little added fat, are excellent options. Some studies show that eating fish does a better job on satiety compared to an equal portion of lean meat or poultry.
Greek Yogurt: This yogurt is tangier and creamier than regular yogurt and its thickness is due to its being strained extensively to remove the liquid whey and lactose, which results in about twice as much protein and half as much sugar as regular yogurt. Greek yogurt contains protein as casein and whey, both of which have been found to positively affect satiety. The hunger-lowering effects of dairy proteins may be caused by hormones released after their digestion.
Soy: Lean animal proteins are not the only game on town. Vegetarian protein sources such as soy, wheat gluten (seitan), and other meat substitutes do a fine job on hunger, too! A study in the journal Appetite showed that eating tofu, compared to a similar caloric amount of chicken, was associated with lower food intake at the following meal.
Beans: The three basic categories of beans are snap beans (such as string beans), shell beans (including lima beans and peas), and dry beans (like garbanzo and black beans), which are all nutrient and fiber-packed. Beans are high in protein and contain carbs that are slower to digest, which helps control blood glucose and may stimulate gut hormones to help control hunger. In one study, meals that contained lentils led to lower food intake compared to a pasta and tomato sauce meal.
Chia seeds: An ounce of chia seeds has ten grams of fiber and nearly 5 grams of protein, which makes it one of the best foods to feel full. Chia has been shown to control post-meal blood glucose and also prolong satiety. When baked into white bread, study participants reported decreased appetite ratings after eating bread with chia.
Do you have foods or tricks that you use to control hunger? Share!