For many of us, this time of year brings with it generally greater opportunity to eat more than is strictly necessary. While I do not particularly believe in sacrifice or deprivation, I do think it’s useful to be aware of strategies that can be used to prevent over-consumption of food and drink with ease and, importantly, without hunger. And one approach that tends to reap dividends here is focusing on eating a diet that sates the appetite most effectively.
For a given number of calories, not all types of food sate the appetite to the same extent. While many factors can play a part here, two factors that appear to be particularly important are the protein content of food and its glycaemic index (the speed and extent to which it disrupts blood sugar levels). Generally speaking, protein is the most sating element of the diet, and lower GI foods are more sating than those of higher GI. I wrote about this most recently here, where I reported on a study which suggests that higher-protein, lower-GI diets are best for those seeking to keep weight off once they’ve lost it.
One type of diet that fulfils these criteria is a Paleolithic or ‘primal’ diet, essentially a ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet based on foods eaten prior to the introduction of reltaively novel foods including grains and dairy products. Such a diet would include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Most people who revert to this sort of diet find themselves generally well-sated by food, to the extent that they eat less than they ordinarily do without any undue hunger. The usual result? Weight loss (where there is weight to lose) without pangs of hunger that gnaw at the resolve. In short, such a diet generally makes successful weight loss sustainable.
I was interested to read a recent study in which the appetite-sating properties of a Paleolithic diet were pitted against a Mediterranean diet in men . The Paleolithic diet emphaised lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts. The Mediterranean diet was based on wholegrains, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, fruit, fish, vegetable oils and margarine. Study participants were able to eat as much as they liked of the foods available to them. The study lasted 12 weeks.
Left to their own devices, individuals eating the Paleolithic diet ate an average of 1385 calories per day. The Mediterranean diet eating group, on the other hand, ate an average of 1815 calories per day. Both groups were similarly sated. The interpretation? The Paleo diet, for a given number of calories, was significantly more sating than the Mediterranean diet.
This finding, I think, is utterly in line with the experiences of individuals I describe above, who when they shift to a primal diet find themselves less hungry and less in need of food quite naturally.
There can be a tendency at this time of year to cut back on food at certain times of the day (breakfast is a classic time for this) in an effort to balance out expected excesses at other times (e.g. lunch and dinner). I don’t recommend this at all. In fact, I encourage the opposite approach: eat enough of the right foods to ensure that we’re not ravenous before meals which makes it easy to eat moderately, particularly of not-so-healthy foods. A good ‘primal’ start to the day might be some eggs, perhaps with some smoked salmon, and maybe some mushrooms and tomatoes. Such a breakfast, coupled with some nuts in between meals if necessary, will usually ensure that we can enjoy whatever festive foods are available, with little or no tendency to overeat.
1. Jonsson T, et al. A Paleolothic det is more satiating per calorie than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2010;30(7):85 [epub ahead of print]