By Nicolette M. Pace MS, RD, CDE, CDN, CFCS
Growing interest in the area of hunger and appetite control has led to information on how food choices can help you to eat less and lose weight.
Feeling full and satisfied when you have finished a meal is a sensation we refer to as satiety and this should ultimately tell us to stop eating. It is a complex brain-body response and it involves many factors. But how can you be satisfied when you are reducing calories and portion sizes for weight loss? Studies are indicating that this can be possible with some smart additions to your diet.
Before you jump in, understand that working your food choices has to be part of a bigger plan for weight loss and to keep it off. Physical hunger involves an endocrine (hormonal) signaling system that kicks in by the act of digestion, absorption and metabolism of food. The receiving end is our brain and these connections should tell us if we are hungry or have had enough.
Sounds simple right? Unfortunately, signals are complicated by all kinds of factors. Consider portion size, meal timing, meal planning, food preparation, food texture (solid vs liquid), seasonings, food preferences, cultural and lifestyle habits. These all play a role in appetite and hunger management. To make matters worse, signal complications occur more often if you have a metabolic sensitivity like diabetes or are overweight.
Understand that losing weight is a great challenge. Willpower needs help, so guide fullness by choosing foods that promote satiety. How much a food weighs in relation to its calorie level is key. In other words, choose foods that have the lowest calories in a given weight. Foods that are high in fiber and water content have a significant impact. Lean protein also works.
Universally, fruits and vegetables top the list. They are very low calorie density foods and average 15 calories per oz for fresh fruit and 7 calories per oz for non-starchy vegetables. Differences are noted within food groups and this has to do to with added fat and sugar as well as cooking methods that yield water loss, dry out the food and concentrate the calories.
Take a potato for example. As a whole they are reported to be more filling than other starches but boiled potatoes work out to be somewhat more filling than baked. Part of the reason includes how the starch molecule holds water, yielding a heavier product which allows you to be fuller with less of a portion. When you fry the potato some water loss occurs and is replaced by fat. You can reach your calorie limit quite quickly in a smaller amount. Tip: boil your potato and pan fry in a small amount of oil, you’ll get good crispness, browning and flavor.
Feeling full is also triggered by the normal rise in blood sugar after you eat. That is why carbohydrates are satisfying, they are the preferred source of fuel for our body. Foods that are high in sugar concentrate calories in smaller portions and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar that doesn’t keep you satisfied for long. The best choices of foods should help you to stay full until the next meal.
Usually protein foods have a neutral effect on blood sugar and can help establish fullness as part of a mixed meal with fruits and vegetables. They also tend to improve the tendency to snack which usually occurs two hours after meals. Fiber content in foods can also bulk up a meal, curb appetite and slow down the absorptive process keeping you fuller for longer.
Liquids can fill you too as they have signifcant weight ( 2 cups water = 1 pound) but be sure to choose low calorie ones. Thick liquids like yogurt or protein shakes will not pass through as quickly as can be nutritious meals in themselves. Soups lead to fullness not only because of the weight of ingredients but because of temperature. Even rapid eaters have a hard time with hot soup.
Bottom line. Foods with water, fiber and lean protein lead to greater perceived fullness due to added bulk, volume and hormonal response. Adding these foods to your diet can be a big help. But don’t forget to work meal timing to your advantage. Waitiing longer than 4 to 6 hours between meals can lead to problems with hunger management and lead to overeating no matter what you choose.
Use food choices for fullness as a guideline to help you adapt your diet and lifestyle. This information can give you an edge over standard dieting. Remember working physical fullness has to be integrated within the context of meal planning. As you begin to make changes, be open to guidance and support to help you in your goals. Remember its for a good cause!