Everything you need to know about eating for satiety
Ever notice that certain meals and snacks can keep you full for what seems like forever, while others leave you feeling hungry again within the hour? Turns out, there’s more to feeling satisfied than the mere size of your servings. The nutritional makeup of what you eat is also a major determinant of satiety, a.k.a. that contented feeling of fullness you get afterward.
Specifically, we’re talking about the power of protein and fibre, nutrients shown to help people stay fuller longer. Feeling satisfied between meals may be one way to support success on your weight and wellness journey, says Heather Leidy, PhD, an associate professor who specialises in nutrition sciences. Whether you're looking to lose weight, maintain your weight or simply fend off a case of the stomach grumbles, here’s how the composition of your meals and snacks can make a difference.
How protein fills you up
Among the big three macronutrients, protein takes top honours at promoting satiety. “Protein helps you feel fuller a little bit more than carbohydrates and quite a bit more than fats,” says Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, a professor of nutrition and metabolism.
Highlighting one facet of how protein makes meals more satisfying, research suggests that protein-rich foods may reduce the secretion of ghrelin—a hormone that reminds you you're hungry—while increasing circulating levels of hormones that signal satiety.
Falling short on protein “can make us feel hungrier throughout the day and have more food cravings," Dr. Leidy says. Just note that there’s no one-size-fits-all amount of protein everyone should aim to eat. The current recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein is 0.75 grams per kg of bodyweight for women and 0.84 grams per kg of bodyweight for men. Meaning? A female who weighs 65 kg needs about 49 grams of protein per day. To give you an idea of what that looks like: a 200 gram serving of high protein, fat-free Greek yoghurt has about 20 g of protein, 1 cup of lentils has around 13 g and a 80 grams serving of boneless, skinless chicken breast contains 24 g of protein. Other high protein foods include; lean red meat cuts, eggs, tofu, chickpeas, salmon and prawns.
How fibre fills you up
Unlike other carbohydrates, fibre doesn’t break down during digestion to provide energy for the body. Instead, this complex carb—found in plant-based foods—creates bulk in our diet slows down digestion, supporting a steadier, more sustained release of energy from other food components we eat.
Good sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and whole-grain foods (like oats, brown rice or wholemeal pasta). Women need 25 grams of fibre a day and men need 30 grams – but only about 6 out of 10 Australians meet this target. This is mainly because less than a third of us eat enough fibre-rich grains or fruit and only four per cent eat the recommended serves of vegetables and legumes a day, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Health Survey.
People who enjoy plenty of fibre-rich foods in their daily diet tend to have lower body weights than people who consume less of the nutrient. In a small 2015 study that compared higher-fibre porridge to lower-fibre corn flakes, volunteers in the porridge group described their meal as more satiating. They also ate less at a subsequent meal than volunteers who had eaten cornflakes.
How to boost your intake of fibre and protein
In general, we know that meals and snacks that combine protein and fibre are filling. Still, since everyone’s body is different, there’s no universal magic formula for whipping up a filling meal or snack. Try sampling different ideas and combos to figure out which feel most satisfying to you. Here are some ideas:
Tips for eating more fibre
- Instead of peeling potatoes, scrub them well, cook them and eat the spuds with the skin on—as this is where most of the fibre is found! Same goes for other vegetables like carrots or fruits such as apples and pears.
- Add sautéed mushrooms, grated zucchini, or other veggies to sauces like bolognese, soups, homemade burger patties, or even Mexican dishes like chilli con carne. Not only does this boost the fibre content of your meals, but adds flavour too!
- Replace added sugar in homemade baked goods or breakfast items with higher fibre alternatives such as mashed banana or pureed apple sauce.
- Incorporate higher-fibre snacks in your eating plan such as veggie sticks with hummus, wholegrain crackers with cheese, roasted chickpeas or fruit - just to name a few!
Tips for eating more protein
- Top baked potatoes and vegetarian dishes with a poached, hard-boiled, or sunny-side-up egg.
- Add nut butters like almond butter to your morning oats, smoothies or healthy snacks like bliss balls.
- Stash a bag of precooked prawns in your freezer. The prawns defrost in minutes and can be used in stir-fries, fried-rice dishes, salads and pasta dishes.
- Snack on high protein options such as Greek yoghurt, boiled eggs, edamame, nuts and seeds or products like our WW protein bars and balls.
Tips for eating more fibre *and* protein
(Hint: Quinoa, legumes and nuts are your power foods on this front!)
- Sub quinoa for rice in dishes like chicken soup or salad bowls. One cup (200 g) of cooked quinoa contains around 7 g of fibre and 7 g of protein; on the other hand, 1 cup (160 g) of cooked white rice has only 1 g of fibre and 5 g of protein.
- Use hummus as a sandwich condiment instead of mustard and mayo.
- Give pasta dishes a protein and fibre boost by stirring in some white beans or chickpeas.
- Try mashed chickpeas as a binder instead of breadcrumbs in fish cakes and veggie fritters.
- Sprinkle sliced or chopped almonds, walnuts, or pistachios on porridge.
Other factors that influence satiety
Smoothie fans, this note is for you: As filling as whole fruits and vegetables can be, the situation changes a bit once you blend them into beverage form. Research shows that liquids don’t promote the same feeling of fullness as solid foods do, as eliminating the act of chewing may affect signaling between the stomach and brain. “Any food in solid form is a little more satiating than the same total amount in liquid form," Dr. Paddon-Jones says. So while smoothies and juices can be a delicious and nutritious part of your diet, just note that sipping produce through a straw might not quell your appetite as well as, crunching on a juicy apple would.
Your presence of mind can affect how satisfying a meal feels, as well, Dr. Leidy says. Mindful eating, or being fully present during a meal or snack, can encourage people to appreciate a food’s presentation, flavour, aroma and mouthfeel. Compared with people who eat while distracted, people who eat more mindfully tend to have a better sense of how much they’ve eaten and eat less overall. The same goes when it comes to your pace of eating. On average, it takes ~15-20 minutes for your stomach wall to stretch during a meal, and signal the brain that you’re feeling satisfied and to stop eating. So keep this front of mind next time you enjoy your next meal. Aim to avoid distractions, and chew slowly!
Bottom line: Key nutrients support satiety in a healthy pattern of eating
Remember that we eat for all sorts of reasons, not just because we might be physically hungry. Sometimes the urge to eat is influenced by factors such as emotions, or sights and smells of delicious things in our midst. “While satiety can help curb appetite and increase one’s ability to adhere to an eating pattern, we need to be mindful of our hunger and satiety cues,” Dr. Leidy says. In other words, think of protein and fibre as two more things in your toolkit for working toward your overall weight loss goals.