Have you ever noticed that eating certain foods seems to make you feel hungrier? Some patients tell me that they are not hungry until they start eating - but once they start, they can't seem to stop. Why is this? There are several factors.
Not all foods are the same. I don't just mean in terms of nutrition or calories, but also in terms of what I call the "Full Effect". Some foods keep you full and satisfied, while others seem to ironically make you want to eat more.
Let's start with the "Empty Effect" - foods that make you hungrier. Refined carbohydrates which have had the fiber stripped out (like bagels, white bread, white rice, sugar, soda, fruit juice, etc) are prime offenders. These are easily and rapidly digested, and quickly raise your blood sugar. These are known as "fast sugar" foods, or high glycemic index foods. These may temporarily make you feel full, but they cause your blood sugar to surge, followed by a surge in insulin. What goes up quickly comes down quickly, and the rebound crash of blood sugar makes you feel even hungrier. You actually crave more carbohydrates, and can end up on the "sugar roller coaster", gaining weight all the while.
Other “Empty Effect” foods are saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are from animal and dairy sources (beef, full fat cheese, butter, etc, along with a few “tropical oils”), and trans fats are those “partially hydrogenated oils” you’ve been hearing about for a few years. These fats actually make you feel hungrier, apparently by almost immediately raising inflammatory mediators in the bloodstream, and blocking the effect of a natural “fullness hormone” called leptin.
Now let’s get to the “Full Effect” foods. Our brain receives many chemical signals from our bodies to tell us when to stop eating; it makes sense to use the right foods to trigger a sense of fullness and satiety. Number one is PROTEIN. Studies have shown that LEAN protein (without much fat), helps to trigger a sense of fullness that persists long after a meal. Some experts recommend starting with at least 30 grams of protein in breakfast, in order to best achieve appetite control throughout the day. One of the worst breakfasts, in terms of appetite control, would be a high carbohydrate breakfast without adequate protein (such as oatmeal, cereal, bagels, etc). Protein keeps us full by multiple mechanisms - it slows the surge of blood sugar, and keeps it smooth after the meal is done. It also triggers fullness signals in our brain, and helps protect our muscles during weight loss, keeping our metabolism higher.
Other “Full Effect” foods are those with a lot of volume, and a lot of weight, but low in calories. This would include foods with a lot of fiber and water such as whole fruits, vegetables, soups, beans/legumes, and salads. These foods tend to take a little longer to eat, allowing your brain to know it’s getting full, and they stretch and weigh down your stomach, turning down the hunger hormone ghrelin. The fiber also slows down absorption of carbohydrates, keeping blood sugar smoother, and controlling insulin and appetite.
Finally, let’s get to fat. Some fats are much “heart healthier” than others, and it is important to have some omega -3 fats (fish oil, flax seed), and “MUFA’s”, or monounsaturated fatty acids (nuts, olive oil, etc) in your diet. These are important in controlling inflammation in your body, among other needs. However, it is important to watch the portion size of even these “good fats”, as they do not quickly tell your brain you are full, and you can easily eat too much, and have too many calories. 1 Tablespoon of oil has about 120 calories; one Tbs of peanut butter, around 100. Be careful!
Remember, it’s not just calories that count - it is also the QUALITY of those calories. Some foods will keep you full and happy, and make it easier to stay in a healthy calorie range! We want you to be healthy AND happy!