Sure—when you’re hungry, any food will satisfy your appetite, at least for a little while. But when you’re trying to lose weight, you want that feeling of fullness to last as long as possible, so you won’t be tempted to snack and nibble to tide you over to your next meal.
Lucky for you, scientists have made a specialty of figuring out what foods satisfy hunger and cravings best, without piling on calories. This “satiety” research uses several rating scales, including the glycemic index, which measures how fast and how high a food raises blood sugar; the satiety index, which ranks foods according to how well they stave off hunger after two hours; and the “fullness factor,” an equation that predicts a food’s ability to keep off hunger based on its composition of appetite-satisfying fiber and protein, as well as its density and water content.
Here are foods that make the cut when it comes to taming your appetite. They either have the right mix of nutrients, or are exceptionally high in protein, or may have a unique factor that qualifies as an appetite-tamer.
Green tea: Natural plant compounds called polyphenols in green tea have been found to act as a mild appetite suppressant. This Japanese staple also contains caffeine—TK mg/cup (as compared to TK/cup in coffee), which also has a hunger-curbing effect.
Yogurt: Yogurt a good way to get protein, which provides long-lasting satisfaction, and varieties that contain the beneficial bacteria known as probiotics that may help you achieve normal weight by creating a healthy environment in your intestines. Look for plain, low-fat, live-culture yogurt that contains inulin, a form of soluble fiber that helps reduce the glycemic index of yogurt and make you feel full faster.
Cabbage soup: Remember the cabbage soup diet? It worked, at least for a while, until you got tired of eating it. However you make it, cabbage soup is a perfect mix of appetite-taming ingredients: The veggies, especially cabbage, are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber; a chicken-based broth provides protein and just a bit of fat, for long-lasting effects; and the water-based delivery system (soup!) gets appetite-taming started fast.
Baked beans: The white kidney beans used in most baked bean recipes contain enzymes that interfere with your body’s ability to break down some of the starches in these beans.In fact, these beans are used to make the “carb blockers” found in some diet products. Beans also increase your body’s secretion of cholecystokinin, a hormone that helps to signal satiety.
Bean sprouts: Sprouting beans increases their protein, fiber and water content. Bean sprouts have a very high Fullness Factor, 4.6 on a scale of 5. Mung beans are most often sprouted, and are easy to add to a stir-fry or salad.
Edamame: This fresh soybean, often served steamed in the pod, has the highest protein content of all beans (17 grams per cup) and fiber (8 grams per cup.) Look for frozen, shelled edamame—they are quick and easy to steam or microwave.
Oatmeal: Oatmeal is high in fiber (4 grams per cup), relatively high in protein (6 grams), and clocks in at only 180 calories per cup. Plus, it scores low on the glycemic index, which measures how fast and how high a food raises blood sugar. Use old-fashioned or steel-cut oats to get the most benefit. To make oatmeal even more satisfying, double its protein content by making it with skim milk.
Grapefruit and oranges: Both grapefruit and oranges score very high on all measures of satiety, and have relatively low glycemic scores and calorie counts. A mix of soluble and insoluble fiber help citrus fruits make you feel full fast, a good reason to start a meal with half a grapefruit, or to have an orange as a snack.
Lentils: Lentils are high in fiber (16 grams per cup) and protein (18 grams per cup), giving them a sky-high Fullness Factor. They also rank low on the glycemic index, are loaded with nutrients and come in at a respectable 226 calories per cup. Green lentils have the most fiber.
Fish: Fish scores very high on both the Satiety Scale and the Fullness Factor. Its Glycemic Load is zero, meaning that it does not affect blood sugar or insulin at all. It is a great source of protein, which stimulates the body’s production of appetite-taming hormones. Other protein-rich foods also score high: chicken breast, steak, eggs.
Pickled and fermented foods: Adding acid to any food to lowers its glycemic score, simply because acid slows down the rate at which foods moves through the small intestines. So a pickled food–made with vinegar or lemon juice, or a naturally fermented food, which makes its own acid from bacteria–significantly lowers the glycemic index of the whole meal, and so, may help satisfy your hunger longer. In a study from Sweden, vinegar added to a meal of bread lowered insulin response and increased satiety.
Rye bread or crisps: Compared to wheat flour, rye flour is heavy, dense and high in fiber and minerals. The fiber in rye has an exceptionally high water-binding capacity and quickly gives a feeling a fullness and satiety, making rye bread a real help for anyone trying to lose weight. Rye bread is usually made as a sourdough, which makes it acidic and lowers its glycemic score even more. Look for hefty loaves of traditional German or Scandinavian rye, which may list whole rye flakes, cracked rye or rye meal as ingredients. For rye crisps, look for Finn or Wasa brands.
Dark chocolate: A rich source of polyphenols that help suppress appetite, dark chocolate also boosts feel-good neurotransmitters that can reduce emotional eating. Because it is high in fat and low in sugar, dark chocolate has a very low glycemic score, and so, unlike some chocolate treats, does not cause a sharp rise in insulin levels. Look for dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, with 70-85 % cacoa solids, which is satisfying but bitter enough to discourage overindulgence.
Hot sauce: Some research supports the notion that eating strongly flavored foods helps people eat less than they would of bland foods. In one study, men who were served hot sauce with appetizers before a meal went on to consume about 200 fewer calories at lunch and later meals during the day than people who did not get the hot sauce. Hot sauce also increases our body’s metabolism and helps you burn calories.
Tomato juice: It fits a number of appetite-taming criteria: it has lots of soluble fiber, is acidic so it lowers the glycemic count of an entire meal, and, because it is liquid, gets into your system fast. Try starting a meal with 8 ounces of tomato juice spiked with lemon juice and hot sauce.