When we think about hormones, we naturally default into thinking of our reproductive health; rarely do we think about hunger hormones, yet they control our hunger and satiety levels, playing an important role in food intake, cravings, and energy levels.
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers telling everyone what to do and how to do it; they are basically our own personal army of moms. When it comes to hunger hormones, there are a few stars worth mentioning. Ghrelin, for example, is known as the hunger hormone, which is released when our stomachs are empty. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP1) on the other hand, lets our brain know we are full and encourages the release of insulin from the pancreas.
Cholecystokinin (CCK) slows down the emptying of the stomach and regulates the release of bile from the gallbladder as well as pancreatic enzymes to aid digestion of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Leptin, produced by fat cells, alerts the hypothalamus of the amount of energy stored in fat, which indicates to our nervous system to adjust food intake and energy expenditure.
Lastly, Neuropeptide Y (NPY) stimulates food intake, especially carbohydrates, giving it a big role in sugar cravings. Chronic food restrictions and fasting increase NPY content in the hypothalamus.
As you can see, there are several players in this intricate process, and thinking we are solely in charge of our hunger levels is, well, missing the big picture.
Nourishing Your Hunger Hormones to Increase Your Energy
It is not just a matter of eating when we feel hungry, it is also recognizing when we are actually feeling hungry, have an increased appetite, or are just having a craving.
Wait—are hunger and appetite not the same? They are not. Hunger is a physiological body response that encourages the intake of food in order to maintain energy levels. Appetite responds to an emotional, visual, or habit cue that needs to be satisfied promptly and triggers a reward feeling.
Recognizing why and when we are “hungry” and what to eat to feel truly satisfied are important pieces of information to know about your own body. For example, if you are having a stressful day and you have only managed to have a cup of coffee and a bagel for breakfast, and a sandwich with lettuce and tomato for lunch, you can start expecting certain behaviours that are caused by your hunger hormones and blood glucose levels.
A great start to keeping our hunger hormones happy is to have a steady blood glucose level.
Glucose is the by-product of carbohydrate digestion; therefore, both, simple and complex carbohydrates or starches can affect blood glucose levels. Furthermore, insulin sensitivity to the same food can vary from person to person depending on different factors such as physical activity, sleep patterns, and stress exposure.
As a rule of thumb, though, our blood glucose levels can have a major spike or stay high for longer by the overconsumption of simple carbohydrates or sugars, such as sodas, pastries, or cookies, but also natural sugars such as those found in fruit, particularly tropical ones. The higher our blood glucose level rises, the more noticeable the crash is, which translates into the constant craving for more sugary foods.
Creating a balanced meal is a great start to improve your energy level and keep hunger hormones and blood glucose happy.
Incorporate protein and fat-rich foods into your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Protein has a regulating effect on GLP1 and CCK hunger hormones. Think of eggs, salmon, grass-fed meat, legumes, nuts, and seeds. For fat think of olives, pistachios, macadamias, walnuts, hemp hearts, and ghee.
Make sure fibre has a key feature on your plate. Fibre slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, resulting in a slow and steady increase of blood sugar. Plus it physically stretches the stomach lining, which makes you feel satisfied. Think of non-starchy vegetables, avocado, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Incorporate regular movement into your routine. This creates more insulin sensitivity in your muscles, which is good news. A brisk 30-minute movement daily can create a great lifestyle routine.
Don’t forget about your gut. It also plays a major role in your blood glucose levels as it helps to ferment carbohydrates. Think about pre- and probiotic foods such as kimchi and miso, but also leafy greens and vegetables as well as prebiotic fibre such as inulin, and apple pectin.
Laura Spencer is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ vitamin specialists and a passionate foodie. She believes we can be as happy, healthier, and fulfilled as we allow ourselves to be. As a certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant, she works with people to help them achieve a healthy lifestyle by focusing on modifying behaviours and eating habits that are not working. bonfirenutrition.ca | @bonfirenutrition
This article was published in The Good Life Magazine.