What Foods Help With Hunger Pains?
Hunger pains and pangs are a gnawing or rumbling sensation in the stomach that can be accompanied by cravings, irritability, and tiredness. As the name suggests, hunger pains are a symptom of hunger and usually go away once you've eaten enough food.
Hunger Severity and Fullness
The hunger scale describes different levels of hunger people experience and the physical and mental symptoms that accompany them:
- Beyond hungry — You feel physically exhausted and want to lie down, and you may also have a headache or dizziness.
- Very hungry — Your hunger is making you irritable, and you lack physical energy.
- Hungry — Your stomach feels empty, and you have a strong desire to eat.
- Approaching hunger — You're starting to think about food.
- Approaching fullness — You've eaten enough food to keep going, and you're starting to feel physically and psychologically satisfied.
- Full — Your stomach feels full, and you're completely satisfied.
Later stages (seven to 10) exceed the level of being comfortably full and lead to feelings of being bloated or stuffed. Consequently, people tend to enjoy their food more and eat better when they're at levels three to six on the hunger scale.
Remember, though, that you should drink enough water so that you don't confuse your hunger with your thirst.
If you're at levels one or two on the hunger scale, you might feel hunger pains. This usually happens when you ignore your hunger signals at higher levels, skip meals, or are too busy to eat. In addition to hunger pains, you may also feel light-headed, anxious, or irritable.
When you're very hungry or beyond hungry, it's easy to give in to the urge to eat anything and everything. However, adopting a more mindful approach helps ensure that you're eating as healthily as possible. Next time you feel hunger pains, take the following steps:
- Eat small pieces of food (e.g., a cracker) until you reach level three on the hunger scale.
- Wait for 10 to 15 minutes before observing your hunger level again.
If your hunger level remains at three, eat normally until you reach levels five or six.
What Causes Hunger Pangs?
As one of the many possible symptoms of hunger, hunger pains can be caused by several things:
- Eating processed foods
- Lack of sleep
Ghrelin is commonly known as the "hunger hormone" because it stimulates your appetite and makes you digest more food and store more fat. When people are given this hormone artificially, their food intake increases by 30%.
Your body's ghrelin levels fluctuate naturally throughout the day, though—they're often high just before your regular meal times and low once you've just eaten.
Meanwhile, processed foods like ready-made breads, lunch meats, and candies have a high glycemic index, meaning they lead to a faster rise in blood sugar. When you eat these foods, your body makes a lot of insulin in response, leading to a sudden peak and fall in blood sugar. This can leave you feeling hungry again sooner rather than later.
Research has shown that when adults don't get enough sleep, they tend to have higher ghrelin levels, feel more hungry, and feel less full than people who get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
High stress causes your adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol. While cortisol increases your motivation to deal with the stressful situation at hand, it also increases appetite, leaving you hungrier and more prone to overeating.
5 foods That Fight Hunger Pangs
In addition to responding mindfully to hunger in the aforementioned ways, it's also important to watch what you eat.
There are certain foods that can leave you feeling fuller for longer, keeping the hunger pains at bay:
- Lean meats
Soups have a high water content, so they are often recommended for weight management. One study showed that people who had soup ate less of a test lunch meal provided to them than people who did not have soup. The people who had soup reduced their energy intake at lunch by 20% compared to those who did not have soup and, despite this lower intake, were not hungrier than the other group at the end of the meal.
Beans are rich in fiber and protein, which leave you feeling satisfied longer. In one small study of obese men on protein-based diets, the group consuming most of their protein from legumes like beans saw the biggest weight loss over an eight-week period.
Eggs are a great food to help with feeling full and with weight management and because they're relatively low in calories but high in protein. There's some evidence that eating eggs increases the level of a hormone that leaves you feeling full after eating and also slows down the speed at which food passes through the stomach.
Lean meats contain lots of protein but remain low in fat. One study found that people with diabetes who ate a Paleolithic diet (which is high in lean meat, eggs, fruits, and vegetables) reported higher satiety results than a group eating a regular diabetic diet. In particular, those people on the Paleolithic diet had greater satiety for their energy intake per meal, energy density per meals, and glycemic load per meal.
Meanwhile, if you want a snack that tackles hunger pangs, reach for the popcorn. Not only does popcorn have a higher satiety index than other popular snacks like potato chips, but it's also a whole grain high-fiber snack that's rich in nutrients.