More protein is usually what’s needed when hunger strikes

Appetite is something that can run riot in certain individuals, and the last few years have seen scientists attempt to identify the mechanisms that influence it. For example, a hormone by the name of leptin has been found to suppress appetite, while one called ghrelin has the opposite effect. This week saw the publication of a study in the journal Nature which added further to the current understanding of appetite control mechanisms in the body. Researchers in Japan injected a protein called nesfatin into rats and found that it led to a significant curbing of their appetite and a substantial loss in weight.

While this study is being hailed as another step towards the development of drugs that will aid our quest to combat obesity, there are a number of reasons why I advise caution. First of all, short-term studies in rats are not necessarily appropriate for adjudging the long-terms effects of any drug in humans. And, actually, the chances of a drug based on this protein coming to market are actually very small.

Those wishing to take steps to curb their appetite might, therefore, want to take some steps in this direction themselves. To this end, I have added an article here explores the science behind the appetite sating effects of foods. What the science shows is that protein in the diet packs a punch in this department. Protein’s appetite-sating effect is perhaps on reason low-carb diets such as the Atkins diet and the South Beach diet tend to work for many individuals. While I am not a fan of these quite extreme dietary regimes, I do think they should be applauded for highlighting the potential hazards of consuming too much carb and for helping individuals get control of their appetite quite naturally.

Observer Column – 21st August 2005
It wasn’t so long ago that the controversial Atkins diet was a rip-roaring success on both sides of the Atlantic, as evidenced by spectacular sales of not just books, but also Atkins food products such as snack bars and shakes. However, increasing competition and a reduced appetite for the extreme of the Atkins diet have been two factors that have led Atkins Nutritionals (the company responsible for manufacturing and marketing the Atkins diet food products) to recently file for bankruptcy in the States. I suspect this news will be met with some glee by detractors of the late Dr Robert Atkins and his diet.

While some may be keen to consign the Atkins diet to the dustbin, I thought I would take a look at some recent research which appears to vindicate the relatively high-protein approach espoused by the good doctor. The research in question, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the effect of two different diet compositions on appetite. Individuals participating in this study were first of all prescribed a calorie-controlled diet of which 15 per cent of calories were contributed by protein (with 35 per cent of calories coming from fat and the remainder coming from carbohydrate) for two weeks. After this, the diet was changed to one which contained the same total number of calories as the first diet, but which had 30 per cent of its calories contributed by protein (and 20 per cent of calories coming from fat).

The researchers found that despite contributing the same total number of calories, the higher-protein diet led to significantly increased feelings of fullness and reduced hunger compared to the lower-protein diet. The subjects were then instructed to continue to eat this higher-protein diet for a further 12 weeks, but this time with no restriction placed on quantity. During this phase, individuals ate an average of 441 calories less each day than the amount estimated to maintain their weight. This translated into an average weight loss over the 12 weeks of almost 5 kg per person.

What this study shows is that protein has more appetite-satisfying potential than fat. Previous research has found that protein is more sating than carbohydrate too. These findings do seem to help explain why it is that individuals who adopt a higher-protein diet so often confess to feeling less hungry. Perhaps more importantly, the appetite-quelling effects of protein has profound implications for weight control in the long term.

While foods such as meat, fish and eggs are rich in protein, not everyone is comfortable with the concept of eating such animal-derived fare. Also, emphasising these foods in the diet places increasing burden on a planet already failing to feed so many of those who inhabit it. Good plant-based sources of protein to include in the diet include nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Including these protein-rich and highly nutritious foods in the diet is likely to be a boon for those looking to achieve or attain a healthy weight, without the hunger strikes.

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