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Is there such a thing as an appetite-suppressing food?

The very short answer to this question is "no." Appetite involves many more aspects of our experience than can ever be controlled by a single food. However, recent research studies have provided us some fascinating new information about diet and appetite, and these studies suggest an overall approach to eating that has the best change to help you control your appetite. In this article, we will provide you with a practical look at this eating approach. We will also give you a short summary of appetite and how it works based on recent research studies.

Appetite - A Quick Overview

Appetite is extremely well-studied in food and health science. We know that two types of factors provide the key to understanding appetite. One type of factor involves the body's own regulation of appetite. Events in our brain and throughout our nervous system, events in our hormonal system, and events in our digestive tract work together to help regulate appetite. Many specific molecules in the body have been studied extensively in this context, including ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CCK), oxyntomodulin, insulin, and leptin. Stomach emptying, body temperature, hydration status, and other physiological factors can have a measurable impact on our appetite.

The second type of factor involved in appetite regulation is our personal experience. Our sensory experience is especially important in this regard. What we see and smell and imagine can affect our appetite. So can time of day, recent experiences of overeating or undereating, and a wide range of moods and other psychological aspects of our experience. In some cases, researchers have tied these two types of appetite-related factors together, and can explain what takes place on a metabolic level when we experience increased or decreased appetite. But as you can see, there are far too many appetite-related components here to pin the experience on intake of any one particular food.

Low Energy-Dense Diets and Appetite

In recent years, research on appetite has focused more and more on one particular aspect of diet: its energy density (ED). While this idea might sound complicated, it isn't. ED simply refers to the number of calories that are provided by any particular amount of food (or meal, or whole day's diet). As consumers, we are all familiar with this idea, if from no other place than food advertising. For example, we know about diet sodas that provide only 1 calorie in a 12-ounce can.

When a food has a high ED, it contains a lot of calories per ounce, or per cup, or per gram. It doesn't matter what kind of measuring unit is being used. A high ED means that you get a lot of calories in that particular measuring unit. By contrast, foods with a low ED give you very few calories per ounce or cup or gram.

The very interesting part about low ED diets is their ability in research studies to lessen appetite, increase the chances of weight loss, and even lower risk of chronic diseases like obesity. Low-ED diets have also been associated with improved nutrient intake. There is some evidence that low-ED diets can help regulate the speed of digestion and increase feelings of fullness as well. Also interesting are some low-ED diet studies that link this food approach to better satiety. "Satiety" is a specialized term in appetite research, and it is often compared to the term "satiation." When we feel full toward the end of a meal and decide to stop eating, that experience is referred to by researchers as "satiation." After we have stopped eating, however, a second type of experience occurs, in which we decide that it is time to start eating again. "Satiety" is the term that researchers use to describe that period of time after we have stopped eating and yet before we decide that it is time to eat again. Satiety is obviously important for anyone wanting to lose or manage their weight, because it is a period of time when the desire to start eating is absent. Interestingly, low-ED diets have been linked to improved satiety, lending one more encouraging note to the possibility of better appetite control with the help of this eating approach. In the next section, we will explain how you can create a low-ED diet through your own food choices.

Creating a Low-ED Diet

There are three possible steps that you can take to lower the energy density of your diet. One step is to decrease your fat intake. This step works to lower ED since fat is the most energy-dense of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat). A general rule of thumb for ED and macronutrients is as follows: protein = 4 calories per gram, carbohydrate = 4 calories per gram, and fat = 9 calories per gram. So you can easily see how your calories per gram of food would go down if you lowered your fat intake.

Yet, from our perspective at WHFoods, there is a limit to the value of this approach. It makes good sense for you to lower your intake of low-quality fats—for example, hydrogenated oils, conditioned and refined oils, or fats used in frying. It also makes good sense to remove fats that are primarily related to overeating. But we believe that it is not a good trade-off to remove an adequate baseline of high-quality fats, including, of course, omega-3 fats found in food groups like seafood or nuts and seeds. In other words, we recommend avoidance of a trade-off where you are eliminating high-quality fats in order to lower the energy density of your overall meal plan.

A second way for you to create a low-ED diet is to increase your intake of vegetables and fruits. That's because vegetables and fruits are both low-ED food groups that provide relatively few calories per gram. Several research studies have shown the ability of added vegetables and fruits to lower ED. This second approach gets a resounding "Yes!" from us at WHFoods.

A third way to create a low-ED diet is to increase your water intake—but not in the way that you might think. Water, of course, is the lowest ED food, providing 0 calories per gram. For this reason alone, it makes good sense to add water in a low-ED diet. However, studies have shown that it is better to add water to a recipe (for example, soup) than to consume it separately as a beverage if you are trying to increase satiety on a low-ED diet. This finding does not mean that you should stop drinking water. But it means that you should consider water-rich recipes like soups as a way of lowering your diet ED and increasing your satiety (lasting sense of satisfaction after eating that takes away your desire to start eating again).

One final aspect of low-ED diet creation involves the importance of whole foods. Studies on energy density have compared whole foods—like apples—to processed food versions like applesauce or apple juice. While all three food forms might fit into the low-ED category, researchers have found that the whole food forms are best able to increase satiety as well as to decrease calorie intake at the next meal. When you combine this emphasis on whole foods—together with the importance of vegetables and fruits in a low-ED meal plan—you end up with two of the key features in our WHFoods approach to healthy eating. We look forward to future research on low-ED diets and appetite that should provide us with an even more detailed understanding of this eating approach.


Azadbakht L, Haghighatdoost F, and Esmaillzadeh A. Dietary energy density is inversely associated with the diet quality indices among Iranian young adults. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2012;58(1):29-35.

Howe SM, Hand TM, and Manore MM. Exercise-Trained Men and Women: Role of Exercise and Diet on Appetite and Energy Intake. Nutrients. 2014 November; 6(11): 4935—4960.

Karl JP and Roberts SB. Energy density, energy intake, and body weight regulation in adults. Adv Nutr. 2014 Nov 14;5(6):835-50.

Ledikwe JH, Blanck HM, Khan LK, et al. Low-energy-density diets are associated with high diet quality in adults in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006 Aug;106(8):1172-80.

Rolls BJ. The relationship between dietary energy density and energy intake. Physiol Behav. 2009 July 14; 97(5): 609—615.

Thomas EA, Bechtell JL, Vestal BE, et al. Eating-related Behaviors and Appetite During Energy Imbalance in Obese-Prone and Obese-Resistant Individuals. Appetite. 2013 June; 65: 96—102.

Williams RA, Roe LS, and Rolls BJ.Comparison of three methods to reduce energy density. Effects on daily energy intake. Appetite. 2013 Jul;66:75-83.

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