Ask an RD: Dietitian Janet Nash shares how you can stop those hunger pains.
We’ve all been there. It’s after lunch, and your stomach starts to growl. Suddenly, you’re ravenous. When you glance at the clock, it’s only 2 pm. Why are you hungry again? It may have to do with what kind of food you’re eating. Food choice is a crucial component to staying satisfied throughout the day. By learning what to put on your plate, you can avoid mid-day hunger pains while nourishing your body.
Eat Protein-Packed Meals
When planning a meal, start with identifying your protein source. Since protein takes longer to digest, it stays in your stomach longer and helps curb your appetite. As your digestive system breaks down protein into its building blocks (called amino acids), it circulates them throughout your bloodstream, providing a steady energy source to help keep you going from one meal to the next. Try to incorporate one protein at each meal to help reduce hunger later in the day. Lean meats such as chicken, turkey and pork loin, as well as other sources such as low-fat cheese, yogurt, legumes, and eggs, all contain high amounts of protein that will help you stay full.
Choose Whole Grains for Your Carbs
Typically, it’s best practice to balance protein with a carbohydrate. However, making sure to choose the right kind of starch can further aid in hunger relief. Products made from whole grains retain most of their nutritional and fiber value, compared to refined grains which are usually void of these beneficial components.
Fare that includes whole grains contain more fiber which also takes longer to digest. Since fiber cannot be broken down by your digestive enzymes (and does not translate into calories), it helps keep food moving through your digestive tract at a consistent pace.
Furthermore, high fibrous meals help stabilize your blood sugar levels. In comparison, starchy, sugary foods cause blood sugar levels to spike and drop quickly, resulting in hunger and even shakiness, which can lead to afternoon food cravings.
A few simple updates to your everyday meals can make a big difference. Switch from eating white bread to whole grain. Make sure to look for “100% whole grain” on the food label- without this statement on the package it could contain as little as 10%. For breakfast, try a small bowl of steel-cut oatmeal (double-check the sugar content), topped with blueberries. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, this is the perfect meal to start the day and help keep you feeling satisfied. Looking to update your dinner choices? Opt for whole grain pasta, brown rice or quinoa.
Load Up on Vegetables
Vegetables add flavor, texture and vibrant color to any meal. They’re also rich in nutrients but low in calories – which makes them one of the best foods to incorporate into every meal. Choose a variety of colors, from white to deep purple, to get a broad spectrum of nutrients. One more perk of piling on the veggies? They contain high fiber and water content which adds volume – and keeps you less likely to snack later. Another bonus for anyone on a weight loss journey: you’ll feel full longer on fewer calories.
Add Healthy Fats
Don’t shy away from fat (the healthy kind)! Some fats are more beneficial than others such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These types of fats are found in food sources such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish. Including some fat into your meal not only adds flavor but also promotes fullness because healthy fats slow down digestion.
Some easy ways to add healthier fats include topping meals with avocado, grabbing nuts for a snack, or making a salad dressing with olive oil and vinegar. Choosing to eat fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and halibut a couple of times a week is another way to incorporate beneficial fats into your routine. While consuming a bag of nuts may be easy to do, remember that fats contain a high-calorie content, so it’s good to be mindful of portion control.
Building the Perfect Plate
By creating meals containing protein, whole grains, vegetables and healthy fat, you’re less likely to experience afternoon hunger pains and feel more satisfied throughout the day. Try making a few small changes to your routine – so that the next time you look at your watch and it’s 2 pm, your stomach won’t be calling.
Ready to start a science-based approach to weight loss and nutrition? Book your free Jenny Craig appointment now.
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig