Did you hear the one about the super-fit teenager who loved to drink fruit smoothies but found her weight ballooning? Or the businessman who stocked up on ‘healthy’ yogurt only to wind up in fat camp?
While we are living in an era where it is easier than ever to be informed about health, diet and fitness, it is also true that if we only skim the surface of the information that’s out there, it’s easy to make some mistakes.
And sometimes, they can be catastrophic.
Since childhood, it’s pretty much been a given that by popping something into your mouth, you’ll keep hunger at bay. Lunch not ready? Have a muffin. Three hours until dinner? This nice creamy doughnut will see you through.
And yet scientists increasingly believe that certain foods – including the two we’ve just mentioned – will actually make your hunger pangs worse. In fact, so widespread is the idea, that when we spent an hour looking up ‘foods that make you hungry’ lists online, the tally grew to more than 40 items. Evidently, you can’t eat cheese, any Italian or Chinese food, or anything with sugar in it – unless you want to spend the next hour so ravenous that you start nibbling on a cushion.
It all seems a little bit ridiculous.
To bring it back to basics, we asked Rashi Chowdhary, the Dubai-based nutritionist on Friday’s experts’ panel (rashichowdhary.com), to give us a more manageable list. Something we can file under ‘useful’, rather than ‘overwhelming.’ Here are her seven top foods to avoid if your goal is to keep hunger at bay…
For the last decade or more we’ve been told to ditch the no-frills white bread because wholegrain breads are about a million times better for us. ‘Eat wholegrain, live forever’ goes the mantra (or something like that). We’re exaggerating, but it’s true that the message about the importance to switching to wholegrain has now been ringing loud and clear for aeons. ‘The strain of wholegrain wheat we find today is actually a hybridised modified variety,’ says Rashi. ‘Its chemical composition is very different from the good-old wholewheat from 30 years ago.’
And that’s where the alarm bells start ringing. ‘The gluten content of this wheat is partially digested by our body,’ Rashi explains, ‘which causes a whole host of digestive issues and has shown to increase our appetite and cause lethargy.’
In fact, she says, eating two slices of wholewheat bread can raise your sugar levels as much as having a chocolate bar would.
‘Drinking your fruits can be even worse,’ says Rashi, ending our love affair with freshly pressed clementines in a single sentence. ‘You can’t eat four oranges easily in one go,’ she says, ‘but you can drink them. This means more calories and more sugar all at once.’
Rashi describes fruit juices as being like ‘liquid candy’: they will satisfy your sugar craving at that moment, but as soon as the sugar high drops, your hunger will kick in.
Eating fruits for breakfast
‘Having a bowl of plain fruit for breakfast might seem like a healthy option,’ says Rashi, ‘but once fruit enters your system it turns to glucose. It has just one macronutrient – carbs – which turns to sugar in your bloodstream.’ Fruits, she says, can raise your sugar levels too quickly and within an hour, once your sugar levels drop, you will find yourself looking for more carbs. But that doesn’t mean we should be ditching the fruits and filling our faces with pizza. Just remember that fruit should be part of a balanced diet, and that it shouldn’t always be the go-to option when feeling peckish.
You’re in the supermarket, you’re trying to do the right thing, and you reach down for the yogurt that promises to be kind on your heart rather than the full-fat option that looks up at you like a cold, white tub of lard. Unfortunately, says Rashi, anything that says ‘fat-free’ is almost always loaded with sugar and artificial chemicals.
‘Fat-free yogurt is a perfect way to open your appetite up,’ she says. ‘Fat is very satiating, it digests slowly and has an insulin-blunting effect. So when you remove the fat from something natural, you are actually going to increase the rate at which it gets digested and also cause your insulin levels to shoot up – which leaves you ravenous.’
Eggs are a gloriously nutritious treat and, despite a few years where they were castigated for their high levels of cholesterol, they are recommended in a balanced diet. They contain all manner of good stuff – would it be wrong to point out that there’s enough in there to grow a baby chicken?
‘Eggs are a great idea any time in the day,’ says Rashi, ‘but throwing the yellow away is probably not the best thing to do. The reason eggs keep you full is their protein content. They have a full range of amino acids that make it a complete protein. When you throw away the yellow, you not only discard almost half the amount of protein but also essential nutrients like Vitamin A, D, E and K. Eating just the whites will definitely keep you hungrier and wanting more food a little later.’ Also – who really wants to eat only egg whites? This isn’t LA, you know.
‘Most ketchups have a nasty ingredient in it called HFCS: high-fructose corn syrup,’ says Rashi. ‘It’s cheap, it boosts the taste and shelf life of a product – and that means more profits for big food brands.’
What ketchup also does, she says, is quietly raise your sugar levels. It has a negative effect on your insulin levels… and – you guessed it – triggers your appetite.
One of the biggest tricks played on diet-conscious consumers over the past decade has been the one in which we’ve been led to believe that all cereal bars are a much healthier alternative to the snack bars we reached for before.
‘Most cereal bars are actually nothing but disguised candy,’ says Rashi. ‘If you read the ingredient list, the first few ingredients are always very high in refined carbohydrates. Also, the protein content is always below 5g and there will be little or no good fatty acids in the bar.’
This nutritional composition, she says, makes most of these bars ‘an absolute gimmick in the name of health.’ Worse, Rashi says they tend to make you snack more often by causing too many fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
So what should you eat?
When the tummy starts to rumble and there are hours to go before your next scheduled meal, it now seems patently obvious that an egg-white omelette with some ketchup on the top and a cereal bar is not the way to go.
The popular medical website WebMD suggests making sure that the meals (not snacks) you eat actually fill you up in the first place, recommending high-water, high-fibre foods such as stews, cooked whole grains, beans, lean meats and eggs.
Interestingly, they also recommend eating mindfully – which at its loosest translation means slowing things down and taking time to appreciate and enjoy what you eat.
Health.com, meanwhile, recommends adding an avocado to whatever you’re having for lunch: a study in Nutrition Journal showed the green superfood was a wonder at making you feel full up. Also on the Health.com list of go-to tummy fillers is dark chocolate, which is more filling than milk chocolate and ‘may help curb cravings for both sweet and salty foods’.
Friday asked Nichola Whitehead – a nutritionist and UK-registered dietitian who has featured on BBC Breakfast – what she looks for in a snack food. She says the secret is a winning combination of both ‘protein and produce’. Here are her three top nibbles:
Hummus and carrot sticks
‘Hummus is made from chickpeas, which are a great source of protein,’ says Nichola, ‘and protein helps us to feel full as it slows down the rate at which food is digested. Chickpeas also provide slow-release energy and when combined with carrots, this snack is a fantastic source of fibre, vitamins such as vitamin A, and minerals.’ Vitamin A, she points out, is a fat-soluble vitamin and the healthy fats in the hummus will help it to be absorbed much better.
Peanut butter and apple
Peanut butter, says Nichola, is a fantastic source of healthy fats, which help to keep our hearts working efficiently. ‘It also provides a source of protein and this makes it a great pre- or post-workout snack.’ The apple provides antioxidants to keep us healthy, and the two foods combined are ‘amazingly satisfying’ thanks to the different tastes and textures.
Cheese and celery
‘Cheese provides both calcium and protein, which is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles,’ says Nichola. ‘It’s also high in calories though, so keep your serving to a matchbox size and serve it with celery as opposed to crackers for fewer calories and more vitamins, minerals and fibre.’ For a lower calorie option, go for a light cream cheese with celery sticks.