Nutrition is complicated. For decades, national health guidelines directed our attention to the quantity of calories we were swallowing, rather than the quality. But now researchers are saying not all calories are created equal.
While some foods keep you feeling full longer, and so help you avoid overeating, your digestive system absorbs other foods so quickly that your body starts calling for more grub almost as soon as you’re finished eating, says Robert Lustig, MD, a nutrition expert at the University of California, San Francisco and author of Fat Chance, a book about the biochemical repercussions of the foods we eat.
Eat the right stuff, and you’ll feel satisfied longer while providing your brain and muscles more energy, Lustig says. What are some of those foods?
Though it got a bad rap for years, dietary fat can be a healthy source of hunger-quelling energy. Nuts are one of those healthy fat sources. Especially when eaten as a snack, a handful of nuts can keep you feeling full and prevent binge eating at mealtimes, finds a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (ACJN). More research suggests walnuts in particular may be sources of healthy, belly-filling omega-3 fatty acids.
Soluble fiber—the type that absorbs water and turns to gel during digestion—slows down your body’s digestive process and also helps satisfy hunger, shows a new study in the journal Nutrition Research. “Fiber helps the food you eat move farther down your intestine to a point where bacteria can chew it up,” Lustig says. This improves satiety, and also reduces the amount of food your body stores as fat, he says. Flaxseed is a soluble fiber super source. Mix some ground flaxseed into your morning or afternoon smoothie, and you’ll pump up its hunger-satisfying powers.
APPLES AND ORANGES
Both of these healthy fruits top the list of satisfying foods, concludes a study in the European Journal of Clinical Research. Why? Both are loaded with fiber.
Pound for pound, no other nutrient beats protein when it comes to satisfying hunger, argues a recent ACJN study. Because the fat found in meat has been linked to some potential health concerns—notably heart disease—you may be better off munching lean cuts. Beef, chicken, and pork are all about the same in terms of satisfying hunger, finds a separate University of South Australia study.
It’s packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are potent, persistent hunger-killers, according to research in the British Journal of Nutrition. Mackerel and herring are two more types of fish with similar protein and omega-3 profiles.
WHOLE GRAIN RYE BREAD
Rye bread is big in Scandinavia. And a recent study from Swedish researchers found bread or porridge made from whole grain rye kept guys from feeling hungry for up to four hours. But no, the “rye” bread at your local Wal-Mart isn’t the kind of bread we’re talking about here. Most commercial rye breads are just wheat breads containing rye seeds and a small amount of rye flour. To get the good stuff, you’ll probably have to shop at a natural foods store. Look for “whole grain rye” as the first ingredient, and also keep an eye out for the Whole Grain Council’s stamp of approval.
Especially when eaten during the morning hours, protein helps manage appetite and energy regulation throughout the day, shows another ACJN study. Eggs are loaded with protein. And while they were once considered unhealthy because of their saturated fat content, newer research has debunked many of those concerns, and suggests you can eat an egg a day without worrying. More research finds eggs from “pastured” (as opposed to cage-raised) hens provide more healthy and filling fat, as well as other beneficial nutrients. Start your day with an egg on whole grain toast, and you’ll be set for hours.
Even when you’re trying to eat less, lentils can help you feel satisfied longer, suggests research in Advances in Nutrition. Lentils are “slowly digestible carbohydrates” and solid sources of fiber and protein, all of which improve their ability to keep you full. Mix some steamed lentils with cooked bell peppers and tomato, and you’ve got a healthy, filling side at mealtimes.
This one is controversial, but evidence is mounting that we’re all depriving ourselves of appetite-killing acids and nutrients when we eat yogurt and sip milk stripped of its fat. A recent review from the European Journal of Nutrition found no association between full-fat dairy and obesity or disease. The study authors say it’s possible full-fat dairy helps you feel full more quickly and stay full longer than low-fat dairy.