Friday, September 6, 2013

The Hunger Hormone

I recently read this quote:
“You use twice as much energy to metabolize protein as carbohydrates – due to the thermic effect of food, protein also reduces hunger hormones more than carbs do.“

It is a simple concept. I get it. But if I think about it a little more … I have questions. I know protein helps stave off hunger, but what does that have to do with hormones? Is there a way to manage this hunger hormone? And if it takes twice as much energy to metabolize protein as carbohydrates, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

So I hit the books and did some research to understand exactly what this information means.

I started with the basics: Metabolism. Metabolism basically refers to all the chemical reactions within the body used to produce energy. Simply put, Metabolism is the process used by a body to take or make energy from the food we consumed. The human digestive system converts the carbohydrates, fats and proteins it consumes food into sugars and acids to be used for fuel. This fuel can be used immediately or stored until it is needed.

The expression "thermic effect of food" is used to describe the energy expended by our bodies in order to consume and process food. We "expend energy" by burning calories.
Here is the important part; processing protein requires the greatest outflow of energy. Dietary fat, on the other hand, is so easily processed and turned into body fat that there is very little thermic effect. So our bodies burn more calories while metabolizing protein.  –That’s Awesome!

The Hunger Hormone:

The hunger hormone, also known as Ghrelin, is food intake inducer. Ghrelin is a hormone located in the stomach that sends hunger signals to the brain. When ghrelin levels are too high, the brain wants food – even if we are full. It is interesting to note that Ghrelin levels increase before meals and decrease after meals.

But here is the cool part - protein in our diet suppresses ghrelin.  In a study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers determined that protein is the best way to lower post meal ghrelin levels. And meals high in carbohydrates are actually counter productive. For example, carbohydrates suppress ghrelin well at first, but levels rebound later, rising to an even higher level. Carbohydrates eventually make people even hungrier than before they had eaten. So eating lots of carbohydrates might also be counterproductive. It looks like protein is your best choice at meal time. 

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