The Role of Real Food in Hunger & Fullness

This month, we're talking a lot about hunger hormones, how to detect fullness and how to make your food work FOR you so you're not a hangry mama all the time! In the video I talked about the role of protein, fiber and fat and making sure you're getting enough carbs to not make NPY angry (watch if you have NO idea what I'm talking about).

But one thing we haven't yet talked about is the role of real food in all of this. Most of us understand eating more real food is powerful-- and it is important, as we're navigating learning how to tune into our bodies and ditching diets, to allow ourselves to eat ALL foods- but real food isn't a diet; it's a conscious effort to ditch more of the processed foods in our life in favor of less-packaged, simple ingredient food.

Listen: Real Food Audio for more on what real food is.

We know it's good for our family's health, but did you also know it can be REALLY important to manage our hunger and fullness? Think about it this way: our bodies were designed to eat FOOD. Food that was provided for us here on this planet- fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs-- by growing and evolving as humans (whatever your beliefs are on evolution, there is no arguing we have grown in knowledge and skills over the last few thousand years) we have been able to do things like cook our food in different ways and learn new preparation and preservation techniques. The body still recognizes these things as such- food!

However, although we have learned a lot about preparing food- we have also learned how to process food. And unfortunately, depending on the level of processing, when chemicals are used to process, or even MAKE the 'food' (in the case of trans fats or artificial sweeteners), our bodies are less adept at processing those foods. And yes- the argument is, well if it's something our body doesn't recognize our liver (and to a lesser extent, our kidneys) will filter it out. And that's true! But our liver has a LOT of work to do in this day and age. Our liver was supposed to protect us against the odd anti-nutrient exposure from plants, metabolize fructose, and process sugar for later use by the body. It also does a great job at metabolizing drugs and filtering out unnecessary chemicals. The problem is-- our world is MUCH more filled with chemicals than it used to be. Just walking down the street we encounter a barage of environmental chemicals our body's detoxification system (yes, it has one) has to filter, our drinking water-- I don't think I need to go on. I'll get off my podium, over here because the point is not to scare you-- it's to make you aware, that your body does a GREAT job, but we can support our bodies in doing the jobs it needs to by avoiding those excess chemicals. Our bodies get bogged down with those excess chemicals- and what happens when it does? Inflammation, which we know from talking about stress can lead to a host of chronic diseases.

These chemical-filled foods can also prevent our body's natural signaling of hunger and fullness. A new study done by the NIH showed ultra-processed foods lead to excess calorie intake (and therefore weight gain). The study showed that the foods messed with the signaling of hunger hormones (surprise, suprise!).

"One thing that was kind of intriguing was that some of the hormones that are involved in food intake regulation were quite different between the two diets as compared to baseline," Hall says. For example, when the participants were eating the unprocessed diet, they had higher levels of an appetite-suppressing hormone called PYY, which is secreted by the gut, and lower levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone, which might explain why they ate fewer calories. On the ultra-processed diet, these hormonal changes flipped, so participants had lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone and higher levels of the hunger hormone." Read the NPR article (it gives a good Lament's overview of the study).

Now, this is not the case for ALL processed foods- and this doesn't mean you should never eat processed foods! We eat frozen pizza and Annie's boxed mac n' cheese, a couple times a month. But it's a couple times a month, which we feel fine with, rather than a couple times a week-- see the difference?

Whatever balance works for YOU is up to YOU, and your family.

It's also important to note, in this study especially, researchers noted the participants who ate the more processed diet had a harder time meeting their protein needs. There is a theory in nutrition science that suggests, because protein is a necessary nutrient for bodily functioning and our body doesn't store it (more on protein here) we will eat until our protein needs are met. As processed foods tend to be low in protein and fiber and high in sugar and fat, it's easy to eat more than we might need otherwise, in order to obtain enough protein or feel satiated (especially if there is little fiber and ghrelin is not being signaled properly). Remember, the hunger hormones work TOGETHER. We need a VARIETY of nutrients to signal the necessary hormones to keep our bodies BALANCED.

Here are the benefits of including more real foods for hunger and fullness:

1. Real foods are often higher in fiber and protein- two nutrients we know are necessary for proper hormone signaling.

2. Real foods are naturally lower in refined sugar-- which has no fiber or protein, but is appealing to our tastebuds and without enough fiber or protein- spikes our blood sugar (causing the rollercoaster).

3. Real foods are naturally higher in micronutrients. The body wants for less when it is getting what it needs, like iron, magnesium and B-vitamins. Our body is powerful- it will crave foods that have nutrients it needs when it needs them!

4. Real food takes longer to eat, in most cases. Think about how much longer it takes you to chew on a steak with a side of broccoli than to slurp down a milkshake or shove fries down your pie hole. Just sayin'. But realistically- real food with REAL protein and REAL fiber takes longer to eat and provides more time for your body to recognize it is full (it doesn't happen instantaneously). A study of 30 men showed that participants who chewed bites 40 times had less ghrelin in their blood (hunger hormone) after the meal they ate, and more glucagon-like peptide-1 and cholecystokinin (fullness hormones).

It's all about reducing exposure, avoiding the smoking guns we KNOW cause issues (like high fructose corn syrup, trans fats and artificial sweeteners) and ADDING more real foods to our life. Ok?

This is where the nutrition portion of intuitive eating comes into play: do you notice you eat more of foods that are more processed (this isn't eating out of emotion, just in general)? If so, how can you add to those foods to make sure your body is getting what it needs (i.e. protein and fiber)?

© 2019 by Kristin Dovbniak for The Supermama Society

Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is for information and encouragement only and is not to be construed as a replacement for medical advice or treatment.