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My diet leaves me hungry all the time. How can I suppress my appetite? Add to ...

The question: I am trying to lose weight, but I feel hungry all the time. Are there any foods that can help suppress my appetite?

The answer: You certainly don’t want to feel hungry on a weight-loss plan, nor should you. Feeling hungry all the time can easily derail your weight-loss efforts by causing you to overeat.

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That said, you should feel a little hungry – but not ravenously hungry – before meals. If, for example, you don’t have an appetite for dinner, that could be a signal your portions were too large at lunch, or that you snacked too close to dinner hour.

First, include a source of protein at each meal, and snacks too. Protein-rich foods like lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, part-skim cheese, Greek yogurt, milk, soy beverages, firm tofu, nuts and legumes help you feel full longer because they require more time to empty from your stomach.

Most people include protein at lunch and dinner, but often forget to do so at breakfast. Research suggests that eating a protein-rich breakfast suppresses your appetite during the day. Protein influences the release of appetite-related hormones that tell your brain you feel satisfied – and no longer hungry.

Next, avoid eating processed, starchy foods such as white bread, crackers, white rice, refined breakfast cereals and cereal bars. Referred to as high-glycemic-index (GI) foods, they cause your blood glucose (sugar) and insulin levels to spike after eating. In response to excess insulin, your blood glucose will drop more quickly over the next few hours, which can trigger hunger and overeating.

Instead, include low-GI foods at meals; they’re digested more slowly and help keep hunger at bay. These foods include beans, lentils, nuts, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, steel-cut or large flake oatmeal, oat bran, Red River cereal, 100-per-cent bran cereals, yogurt, milk, unflavoured soy milk, apples, oranges, peaches, pears and berries (most fruit has a low glycemic index).

It’s also important to eat at regular intervals – every three to four hours – during the day. In fact, my clients tell me one of the keys to their weight loss success is eating a midafternoon snack (protein rich, of course). Doing so prevents late-day hunger pangs and helps them eat smaller portions at the evening meal.

There’s limited evidence that certain foods act as appetite suppressants to promote weight loss. One study of overweight adults found that those who ate half a grapefruit with meals lost more weight that those who didn’t. The grapefruit eaters had significantly lower levels of insulin after eating, which was thought to control hunger.

You might also try adding hot spice to your meals. Research suggests that capsaicin, the component that gives chili peppers their heat, can reduce hunger and food cravings, especially if you don’t eat spicy foods regularly. Season pasta sauces, pizza, chili and stews with dried cayenne pepper, red chili flakes or hot paprika. Or, garnish meals with hot salsa.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel’sDirect (www.lesliebeck.com).

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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