Hunger is a strange thing. Many of us do what I do – I get “hangry”. I become irritable and unless someone (usually Jenny) points that out, I stay hangry and not do anything about it. Anyway, I digress. Let’s start with the basics so we are on the same page.
Hunger pangs are signals our brains sends that it’s time to eat. There are two mechanisms for this – the first is a more physical signaling mechanism and the second, more emotional.
As for the former, when our stomach is empty blood sugar levels drop, followed by insulin. This causes a hormone known as ghrelin to be pumped into the blood stream by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus also monitors the insulin and blood sugar levels to make sure that we’ve eaten enough. Since this process doesn’t happen instantaneously, if we eat fast, we take in more food than we truly need. So, the first advice therefore is to slow down your eating. This will give your stomach enough time to signal to your brain to stop producing ghrelin and keep going with insulin to enable proper digestion. Also keep in mind that if you are a woman with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or are close to being obese, then ghrelin levels shoot up more in your body than others.
The second cause of hunger is centered around the brain, specifically the reward center. If we are feeling emotionally down we feel the need to stimulate this part of the brain and we do so by eating. Not just eating any food. We eat more fatty and sugary foods. More on this later. I will try and link the next article on emotional eating to this one. But for now, just know that there are two reasons for hunger.
These days, we live in a life full of food. It is all around us, so we tend to graze. We don’t wait for hunger pangs. Ask yourself, when was the last time you felt hunger pangs?
Now if we ask you to skip meals, it gets worse. What happens when we try and skip meals for example, to reduce weight? Our stomach that is used to getting a continuous stream of food, goes into overtime pumping acid to get itself ready for food. In addition, we start to use up some key elements from our blood stream. None of which is sugar! True sugar low doesn’t cause headaches or nausea. This is because it takes a lot longer for the sugar levels to drop as compared to drop in some salts due to – dehydration!
So, what we experience is not a sugar low, but a higher blood concentration. It must be obvious to you that our bodies need water all the time. We get this though liquids we drink but also from food! So, if you provide your body with simple water, the “hunger pangs” will go away because you have re-balanced the salts in your blood stream. Test it our for yourself – the next time you are hungry, drink water – I’d say at least 250 – 500 ml (about 1-2 glasses), wait for about 10 minutes and see if the hunger pangs have gone.
Another reason for this experience is low blood pressure. For this, try a simple trick – take a pinch of salt and lick it. Follow it up with some water and you should feel better.
If that still doesn’t take the hunger pangs away, try the third trick – nuts. The only issue with this one is that you should not eat nuts when you are fasting, such as Intermittent fasting. Our body has a feedback mechanism for satiety. Satiety is the feeling of fullness. This can come from simply separating the walls of the stomach (due to food or water) or by artificially feeding something that has some calories – enough to stop the hunger but yet, not enough to increase blood sugar and fat accumulation. Nuts can do this. Gram for gram, nuts can provide more satiety than any other food. What’s more, it comes with side benefits. Most nuts have fiber, they have salt and most importantly, they have beneficial fats. These fats help with memory retention and heart health.
So, in summary, the next time you feel you will get a headache because of not eating enough, drink water, lick salt and if not fasting, add some nuts to your snacking menu.
Ghrelin signalling plays crucial roles in appetite as well as in glucose and energy homeostasis, cardioprotection, muscle atrophy and bone metabolism.
- Ghrelin: much more than a hunger hormone.
- Ghrelin’s second life: from appetite stimulator to glucose regulator.
- Plasma ghrelin levels and hunger scores in humans initiating meals voluntarily without time- and food-related cues
- Insulin, ghrelin and early return of hunger in women with obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome.