The Truth About Hunger: Is Your Body Tricking You Into Feeling Famished?
“I’m starving!” Chances are, you’ve uttered these words recently, perhaps when your stomach rumbled or hunger pangs stabbed in your belly. When you feel the familiar signs of hunger, you grab a bite to eat and chow down until you feel full.
But every once in a while, you may notice that although you ate an enormous sandwich or snacked on cookies, you feel hungry again almost immediately. So, why are you still ravenous? Surprisingly, your tongue holds part of the secret.
The Science of Feeling Full
Typically, when our stomach contracts and empties, we feel hungry. Then, when we eat, the stomach expands, and its nerve receptors sense how much food we’ve ingested as well as the resulting pressure now felt on the stomach wall. Finally, these receptors then use the vagus nerve to tell the brain you feel full.
Voila! You can stop eating.
But the kinds of foods we’re eating, as well as their nutritional value impact how quickly we return to feeling hungry.
What’s Your Tongue Got to Do With It?
Our tongues tell us a lot about what we’re eating. When we gobble up a meal, we can thank our sense of taste for an explosion of flavors, including sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (the “savory” taste we associate with monosodium glutamate or MSG).
Our bodies have been hard-wired through evolution to respond to different tastes with positive or negative reactions. For instance, sweet flavors seem safe, while bitter flavors can be associated with something poisonous or toxic. This explains why sugar-filled foods attract us like, well, flies to honey.
The Tongue Acts as a Nutrient Detector
Not only does your tongue detects flavors, but it also can detect nutrients*, specifically carbohydrates. When you eat carbohydrate-rich foods, your tongue begins to send messages to your brain, before your body even begins to process the food you just consumed. You might feel perked up and full at first when you eat carb-heavy foods, but everything isn’t as it seems.
Water Plays a Role
Drinking water daily is necessary for proper hydration and to flush out toxins, carry nutrients to cells and regulate your body’s functions. But few people realize water also plays a role in our hunger cycle.
Researchers have found that a diet filled with water-rich foods can reduce caloric intake and keep you feeling sated. Studies also show that staying hydrated eliminates a false sense of hunger. To avoid mistaking thirst for hunger, and potentially overeating be mindful of how much water you consume daily. The Institute of Medicine recommends men drink 13 cups of water per day and women drink 9. These numbers can be affected by illness, exercise, and pregnancy.
So, Am I Being Tricked By What I Eat?
It’s possible that you believe you’re full after eating foods loaded with carbohydrates. But that satiated feeling won’t last long. Research shows* the foods with the lowest ability to satiate included sugary, low-nutrient foods like bakery products, croissants, and cookies. Even though you might eat them to feel full, in reality, that sensation won’t linger.
Instead, foods with the greatest power to fill you up had high levels of positive nutrients, like protein, dietary fiber, and water. That means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and also starchy foods like sweet potatoes. When hunger strikes, reach for nutrient-rich foods like a salad with lean protein and avoid the sugary sweets.
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