When you’re trying to lose weight, it seems that nagging sensation of hunger grows even stronger, especially if you’re skipping meals or restricting calories too much. But it’s not just how much you’re eating or not eating that brings on those hunger pangs, what you eat seems to be important too. Changing the composition of your diet to one that’s more nutritionally rich may help reduce your desire to snack between meals.
Do Nutrient-Dense Diets Reduce Hunger Better?
You’re probably already familiar with the effects of eating a sugary, empty-calorie treat like a cookie or brownie. You chow down on it, hoping it’ll relieve your hunger and reduce your desire for something sweet, but it backfires on you. An hour later you’re again hungry and craving something sweet. Plus, you feel tired due to the roller coaster ride your blood sugar has been on. Would eating something nutrient-dense be better?
In a study published in the Nutrition Journal, researchers looked at the effect eating a nutrient-dense diet would have on hunger. They asked 768 people to change their diet from one low in nutrients, a typical junk food and processed food diet, to one that’s nutrient dense, with greater amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants like fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods. While on the two diets, they were asked to rate hunger levels at various times throughout the day along with other physical and emotional symptoms.
The results? When on a nutrient-dense diet, the participants experienced a dramatic decrease in hunger – even when they skipped meals, and they tolerated periods of hunger better than when they ate a less nutrient-rich diet. Plus, they experienced fewer unpleasant physical sensations when they missed a meal like headaches, anxiety, and changes in mood. All in all, their hunger was better controlled and they experienced fewer physical symptoms of hunger when they ate a diet rich in nutrients.
How Does a Nutrient-Rich Diet Control Hunger?
We already know that protein, a macronutrient, boosts satiety, but it also appears that eating a diet rich in micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants do too. The authors in this study believe that diets low in micronutrients increases oxidative stress, causing inflammation and a build-up of toxic breakdown products. They believe these inflammatory metabolites trigger an abnormal type of hunger called “toxic hunger” that leads to overeating. The way to reduce oxidative stress and the resulting inflammatory response is to eat a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
There’s also the issue of how processed foods that are rich in rapidly-absorbed carbs trigger fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels that brings on hunger and other symptoms like fatigue, headache and, in some people, mood changes like anxiety and depression. This can be prevented by substituting fiber-rich carb sources and combining them with a source of protein to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
If you find it’s hard to control your hunger, first make sure you’re not restricting calories too much or waiting too long between meals to eat. Then take a look at the macronutrient composition of your diet. Try eating small meals four or five times a day that includes a source of lean protein and fiber-rich carbs rather than processed ones. Stay away from sugary snacks and beverages except as a rare treat.
Finally, make sure you’re eating foods with a high micronutrient composition. Whole foods like vegetables, berries, salmon and low-fat dairy products like yogurt or cottage cheese are better choices than chips, pretzels, cookies, doughnuts, and other empty calorie snacks. Chances are you’ll feel less hungry when you make nutrient-dense choices and won’t experience the mid-morning or late-afternoon cravings that put you in a bad mood and cause you to make the wrong food choices out of sheer hunger and convenience. That’s why vending machines are so popular. The good news? You won’t need to put a dollar into a vending machine when you center your diet around nutrient-dense foods.
Nutritional Journal. 2010. 9:51. “Changing Perceptions of Hunger on a High Nutrient Density Diet”