High protein diets curb excessive appetite

Excessive or uncontrolled appetite may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in our country more that anyone seems willing to recognize. Try telling someone who is hungry all the time that he or she should eat less and exercise more. What do you think is likely to happen?

Realistically, what can you do if you never feel like you had enough to eat? How should you deal with your child who constantly asks for more food even a few minutes after a full meal?

To understand what is going on in these situations, it is important to realize that satiety – or the feeling that we have had enough to eat – does not come from the stomach being full. In fact the stomach will stretch almost endlessly! Instead, satiety comes from a series of hormonal events that send signals to the brain when we are full.

It is common knowledge in physiology that the hormones leading to satiety are triggered only when there is enough protein in a meal or snack. If you are not convinced of this, experiment on yourself. Try having a pure carbohydrate snack when you are hungry, for example chips or even a “healthy” snack such as a bowl of fruit, and see what happens to your appetite. Another time try having an egg or two and observe the difference. Also take note of how long it takes each time before youíre hungry again.

Another way to look at this is to ask yourselves when was the last time you saw someone bingeing on hard-boiled eggs. By comparison, how many times have you seen people binge on chips or popcorn, the ultimate high-carb foods?

Scientists have found that many common diets such as the Atkins diet, The Zone, and the South Beach Diet lead to an increase in protein consumption from the common 10-20% in the average American diet to 30-40% of total calories. Recent research indicates that it is this increase in protein that leads to the dietsí success in inducing weight loss, in spite of no overall caloric restriction (Lancet 2004; 364: 897-9).

What happens is that by increasing protein the satiety mechanism starts to work as it should and people just naturally eat less. Although the diets focus primarily on carbohydrate restriction, it seems to be the higher protein content that is responsible for the weight loss benefit.

Scientists recently tested this hypothesis by concocting a diet that increased protein by cutting fat, while leaving carbs unchanged. This enabled people to start out the diet consuming the same amount of calories they had been accustomed to previously. However, the higher protein content of the diet made them feel more easily satisfied and they spontaneously reduced their overall calorie intake, leading them to lose a significant amount of weight (Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 82: 41-8).

From a practical standpoint this implies that if you are having trouble with the idea of giving up some of your favorite carbohydrates, you may want to focus instead on increasing the protein content of every meal and snack you eat. The additional protein will help you feel satisfied sooner and eat less overall.

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