Alyssa Cohen, MS, RD
Oftentimes, patients complain that they always feel hungry, despite eating meals that are sufficient (or excessive) in calories. It is common to hear that many people cannot imagine eating less, since they already feel so hungry! The issue may be the types of calories consumed, rather than the amount. It is possible that if you feel hungry often, despite feeling as though you are eating enough, you may be consuming too little protein.
Protein has a satiating effect that allows us to feel full. Specifically, lean protein (chicken breast, turkey breast, fish) can help to keep you full over a long time without compromising your calorie intake. It is important to consume protein with every meal (and snack), so that you can continue to feel full until the next time you plan to eat.
You may be wondering why protein would help to keep you feeling full. For starters, protein (like fat) takes longer for the stomach to empty compared to carbohydrates. While a bagel may help to fill you up in the short-term, oftentimes it will leave you feeling hungry a short while later. Because protein takes longer to leave your stomach, it also can have an effect on the amount of time it takes for your blood sugar to increase. Consuming carbohydrates with protein, fat and/or fiber will slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, which will allow for a more gradual increase in blood sugar following a meal when compared to carbohydrate alone. Our blood sugar levels can affect our appetite. As blood sugar levels increase, our bodies signal for insulin to be released from our pancreas to help bring the blood sugar into our cells. This causes a decrease in blood sugar. As blood sugar levels drop, a series of hormonal reactions occur that encourage us to eat as a means of maintaining blood sugar levels. So, eating protein can help to steady the postprandial (meaning after consuming food) increase – and subsequent decrease – of blood sugar.
Some ways to incorporate protein into meals and snacks include:
- Spreading 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter) on a slice of whole wheat or whole grain bread
- Snacking on nitrate-free turkey or chicken breast deli meat roll-ups
- Swapping regular yogurt for a Greek style yogurt
- Adding a small handful of nuts to your salad (this adds protein and fat – just be mindful of the extra calories contributed by nuts)
- Switching white flour options for a whole grain or whole wheat option (this will increase the protein content of the bread, pasta, etc.)
- Adding beans to your salad or having a bean salad as a snack (be mindful of the carbohydrates supplied by beans )
- Snacking on a hard boiled egg (or a few egg whites) or adding to a small breakfast that is lacking in protein
- Including low-fat dairy into your diet (low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese or milk are great snack options)
So before you think about eating more, thinking about eating differently. Swapping the other half of a whole wheat English muffin for some scrambled egg whites on top may just do the trick!