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Not satisfied after a meal? Add beans.

If you feel like you need to eat a snack after finishing a meal, consider adding beans (or lentils) to your main course next time. According to researchers from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Ont., you'll feel fuller if you do, which could deter nibbling later on.

That's good news for people cutting calories to lose excess weight. Feeling too hungry can derail a diet by triggering cravings and overeating. It can also zap your energy, steal your concentration and make you irritable. Knowing which foods do a good job of warding off hunger can increase the odds of sticking to a low-calorie diet.

The study, published this month in the journal Obesity, reviewed nine randomized, controlled trials that measured the effect of pulses (such as dried peas, lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, navy beans; not green beans) on after-meal satiety (e.g. reduction in appetite) compared to meals containing white bread, mashed potatoes or macaroni.

Pulses were incorporated into meals whole, ground, as flours in bread or as a spread. All meals in the study provided, on average, 313 calories.

The findings: Participants felt 31 per cent fuller after eating one serving (3/4 cup) of pulses compared to the control meals that included quickly digested, or high glycemic, carbohydrates. To put that into perspective, research suggests that increasing the feeling of fullness by 10 per cent can cause people to eat less, a potential advantage for weight control.

Despite increasing satiety, the bean and lentil meals didn't significantly alter the amount of food participants ate at a subsequent meal provided by the researchers. However, in two of the reviewed studies, the second meal was served buffet-style, a setting known to prompt greater food intake in some people.

Even so, a review of studies presented earlier this year by the same research team confirmed that beans and lentils resulted in greater weight loss than calorie-matched control diets, possibly by increasing satiety and reducing hunger. It's also thought that natural compounds in these foods may prevent us from absorbing all of their calories.

Generally speaking, the more fibre, protein and water a food contains, the longer it will satisfy you. And pulses deliver when it comes to protein and fibre. A ¾ cup serving of lentils, for example, has 13 grams of protein – the equivalent of almost four large egg whites – and 11 grams of fibre, the amount found in ½ cup of bran cereal.

Beans and lentils also have a low glycemic index, meaning they don't cause a fast rise in blood glucose or insulin after eating – another way in which they may help you feel full for longer.

Other foods have hunger-fighting powers, too. In the mid-1990s, researchers from Sydney University in Australia developed the "satiety index," a tool that ranks foods by their ability to satisfy hunger. Using white bread as the comparison, volunteers ate 240-calorie portions of 38 different foods and rated their satiety over two hours. Surprisingly, white boiled potatoes topped the list, satisfying people three times longer than 240 calories worth of white bread. French fries weren't nearly as filling, scoring only slightly higher than white bread. Other fatty foods such as doughnuts, croissants and cakes didn't fare well either, with satiety scores much lower than bread.

While adding certain foods to meals and snacks can make you feel fuller – and potentially help you eat less – other strategies are important, too. Eating at regular intervals during the day (every three to four hours), eating slowly and avoiding distractions while eating (watching television, reading, checking e-mails) will also help increase satiety and avert hunger.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct.

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