Foods That Curb Hunger

Rein in your appetite with these feel-full foods.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 19, 2007
5 min read

Foods high in water and fiber, like fruits and vegetables, are the so-called high-volume foods. They add bulk to your meals and help fill your stomach.

Researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD, and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University have done extensive research on the "volumetric" theory of eating more low-calorie, high-volume foods.

"We have found in numerous studies that when you allow people to eat as much as they want of foods that are high in volume yet low in density (calories), they eat less at the meal or during the day," says Rolls.

Indeed, Consumer Reports magazine recently named Rolls' Volumetrics program as the best-researched diet plan.

There are basically two simple volumetric strategies, says Rolls: "Eat a salad or bowl of broth- based soup before the meal to reduce intake at the meal; or reduce calorie density by increasing water, air, or fiber and take out a little fat -- but not so much that the dish loses it taste."

How does it work? Foods containing water, air, or fiber have fewer calories than other foods and also cause the stomach to stretch and empty slowly. In addition, the simple act of seeing a large amount of food -- like a big salad -- can help you feel more satisfied.

The best part is that choosing foods low in caloric density helps you shed pounds without feeling like you're on a restrictive diet.

Anyone who has ever been on a diet is familiar with the gnawing feeling of hunger that occurs when you cut way back on calories. And after a few days of feeling deprived, most dieters throw in the towel. But what if you could cut calories, yet still eat plenty of food, and not be plagued with constant hunger? Experts say that if you choose foods that help curb hunger, as well as become more mindful of your eating behaviors, you can actually eat more and still lose weight.

American Dietetic Association spokesperson Dawn Jackson Blatner calls it the "dieters' dream come true" trilogy of fullness foods: "If you have at least one or more foods that are high in water or fiber and lean protein at all meals, you will feel full on fewer calories."

There is growing evidence of the power of lean protein, like lean meat, fish, poultry, soybeans, and eggs, to help with fullness and weight loss.

"You are most likely to feel fuller after eating protein than other nutrients, including fiber, and one of the theories behind why higher-protein diets work well with weight loss is because it helps you not feel hungry," says Purdue University nutrition professor Wayne Campbell, PhD.

Two recent studies from Purdue demonstrate the satisfying nature of lean protein. In one study, female participants who took in about 30% of their calories from lean protein felt more satisfied and maintained muscle mass better than another group that ate less protein.

"We found that an additional 20-30 grams of protein or a 3-4 ounce portion of lean protein was enough to influence appetite," says Campbell. "We have also shown that when diets are inadequate in the amount of protein and don't meet national recommendations, desire to eat increases."

His suggestion: To keep calories in check, have higher-protein foods in place of other foods. For example, choose a glass of skim or low-fat milk instead of drinking a sweetened beverage, and you'll take in 8 extra grams of protein.

You can add lean protein at any meal, but research has shown that adding it to your breakfast may be especially helpful.

In a study presented at the 2007 Experimental Biology meeting, researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center compared weight loss in dieters who ate either two eggs or a bagel for breakfast. The two breakfast meals were identical in calories and volume, but the egg breakfast was much higher in protein.

"Compared to the bagel eaters, overweight women who ate two eggs for breakfast five times a week for eight weeks, as part of a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet, lost 65% more weight, reduced waist circumference by 83%, reported higher energy levels, and had no significant difference in their ... blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels," reports researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, PhD.

"When people eat eggs, rich in protein, at breakfast, they felt more satisfied and consumed fewer calories throughout the day, compared to those who ate a primarily carbohydrate meal like a bagel."

Eating solid foods rather than drinking liquids can also help you feel fuller, experts say.

"Beverages high in water do not last as long in the stomach as solid foods," says Campbell. "Hunger will not be reduced as much with a liquid as with a solid, so if you are choosing between a meal replacement drink or a meal replacement bar, go for the bar for greater satiety."

When your stomach is stretched from food, it sends a signal to the brain that you have had enough to eat. But that signal doesn't always get through -- especially when the dessert cart rolls around.

To help stay in tune with your body's signals, experts say, it helps to slow down and eliminate distractions while you're eating.

"Eat slowly and mindfully, do not engage in multitasking -- reading emails, watching television -- concentrate on your meal," suggests Blatner.

She recommends taking half an hour to finish your meal.

"To prolong the meal, you can chew slowly, put your fork down between bites, use chopsticks or your non-dominant hand, but my favorite is to simply take smaller forkfuls," she says.

So how do you put this hunger-fighting power to work? In a nutshell, experts say, adding more of these foods to your diet can help curb hunger and help you feel fuller on fewer calories:

  • Soups, stews, cooked whole grains, and beans
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs
  • Whole grains, like popcorn

And here are some easy strategies for working those hunger-fighting foods in your diet:

  • Add shredded or chopped vegetables to pasta and egg dishes, main-dish salads, and other mixed dishes, and use them to top pizzas.
  • Eat whole fruits instead of fruit juices or dried fruits.
  • Use a blender to whip air into fruit drinks, smoothies, or sauces.
  • Choose whole-grain puffed cereals, popcorn, breads, cereals, and pasta.
  • Enjoy vegetable salads or broth-based soups before meals.
  • Top entree salads with lean meats, poultry, eggs, tofu, beans, nuts, or fish.
  • Add fruit to salads or enjoy as dessert.
  • Add beans to stews, soups, egg dishes, and casseroles.
  • Have lean protein or low-fat dairy at all meals and snacks.