Cutting carbs, calories: You lose weight, that's for sure. But those between-meal hunger pains are vicious. Can you make it home tonight without chewing off your hand?
For more than a decade, nutritionists have investigated this issue of "satiety" -- feeling full -- to help us fight off hunger pains, writes Barbara Rolls, PhD, in her book, The Volumetrics Weight-Control Program. Rolls is the Guthrie Chair in nutrition at Pennsylvania State University in Pittsburgh.
"Cut calories by simply eating less, and you'll feel hungry and deprived," she writes.
Rolls' extensive research has led to this conclusion: By strategically increasing a meal's water and fiber content -- with the addition of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains -- you can dramatically cut the calories per portion, she tells WebMD.
Fruits and vegetables naturally have a high water content, which allows you to eat more, because the food is "energy dense."
It's the grapes versus raisins concept: A cup and a half of grapes equals ¼ cup raisins for a snack that is about 100 calories. The water in grapes lets you eat more, so you feel fewer hunger pains, she explains.
Also, a tiny bit of fat helps you last longer, Althea Zanecosky, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, tells WebMD. Your system burns carbs in an hour or two, so the hunger pains hit midmorning. "If you add a little fat to your breakfast, low-fat rather than skim milk, or low-fat yogurt, or a smear of peanut butter on a bagel, you're not hungry so soon afterward."
5 Foods to Try
Zanecosky and Rolls dish out their top "high satiety" suggestions:
- Soup. Start with a broth-based soup (rather than higher-calorie cream soups). Add your favorite cut-up veggies, plus a protein such as beans, chicken, or fish, so you have all the elements of an energy-dense, satisfying meal, says Rolls.
- Smoothies. If they're made with low-fat yogurt and loads of fruit, you're getting protein, fiber, and calcium, Rolls explains. Smoothies have become a nutritional mainstay.
- Pasta primavera. Start with whole-wheat pasta, and then add a bunch of your favorite sautéed veggies, which "can be pretty darn good," Rolls tells WebMD. "The more you increase the proportion of vegetables to pasta, the greater the satiety. We've done a lot of studies with these kinds of mixed casseroles or pasta dishes, and as you add more veggies, you feel fuller."
- Popcorn. It's truly energy dense, plus there's the volume effect. "If you have air-popped popcorn (and don't add fat to it), you get a huge amount. That's good because it gives you lots of sensory satisfaction. There's research showing that the perception of eating a whole lot can trick the system," Rolls tells WebMD.
- Big salads. A meal-sized salad needs grated cheddar cheese, low-fat dressing, plus an abundance of fruits and veggies to provide satiety, says Zanecosky. "If I just have vinegar and veggies in a salad, I'm not always full two hours later. When you add the cheese and a little dressing, it stays with you."
Also, studies show that fish provides more satiety than chicken or beef, Rolls tells WebMD. "It's likely the type of protein in fish that makes the difference," she notes. Veggies, such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes (with the skin), a handful of carrots, as well as whole-grain breakfast cereals or breads, are also satisfying.
Tomatoes are water-intensive, so they are high on the satisfaction scale. For a snack, combine a sliced tomato and a few pretzels -- plus a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or olive oil on the tomato. It will have far more staying power than pretzels alone, says Rolls.
But beware of peanut butter: While it definitely helps keep hunger pains under control, there's the big risk of eating too much, Zanecosky cautions. Just a light smear on a bagel or apple is all you need. Diving spoon-first into the jar is prohibited.