Real Hunger Games

By: Donna Easto, C.H., H.C., H.E.

Is there a hormone that controls hunger? Well, the short answer is yes – there are two hormones that do just that: the “hunger hormones” leptin and ghrelin. Both have their parts to play in controlling body weight. Leptin, a hormone made by fat cells, decreases your appetite. Ghrelin, released primarily in the stomach, signals hunger to the brain, and increases appetite. It also contributes to the accumulation of abdominal fat near the liver. Gherlin levels go up before you eat, letting your brain know you’re hungry, and go down about three hours after the meal. But, while these hormones are a factor in controlling weight, many other hormones and outside influences shape our appetite and hunger. It’s complicated! Unfortunately many obese people have built up a resistance to the appetite-suppressing effects of leptin. Perhaps this is a result of eating refined foods high in sugars, fats, salts, and fructose (especially High Fructose Corn Syrup.) And, now the stage is set for the real hunger games.

Round 1: We’re born liking sugar; fat is especially tricky – it has more than twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins; and by six months of age many of us have already developed a taste for salt. Recent studies confirm what most of us already know, the BIG FOOD industry is hugely responsible for taking advantage of our cravings. Highly processed food made with sugar, fat, and salt can be addictive. Especially when combined in secret ways the food industry will not share or make public. The additives in processed food do nothing for you nutritionally, and in fact, set you up for obesity. However, the message is getting out, “drop the highly-processed food in favour of more natural and plant-based foods, and sales of “fake foods” are starting to fall off.

Round 2: The food industry is back in the ring with “healthy” snacks and highly processed diet meals, often with more sugar in them than the originals, but marketed for weight loss, and here is the key “weasel” word clause, “as part of a calorie-controlled diet”. Your best defense is to ignore the front of the package and go straight to the nutrition/ingredients label. Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest amount. A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, because they are the largest part of what you’re eating. If the first ingredients include refined grains, some sort of sugar or hydrogenated oils, you can be pretty sure that the product is unhealthy. Another good rule of thumb is that if the ingredients list is longer than 2–3 lines, you can assume that the product is highly processed.

If you can, choose foods that are as unprocessed as possible and have few or no additives, but if you just have to indulge a craving, try to choose foods that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients. While appealing, foods that include high amounts of sugars, fats and salt, may trick your brain into treating it like a drug, and just keep wanting more.
There are many herbs used as spices, supplements, foods, teas, and as medicine to help with weight control and maintaining optimum weight. It’s a big topic, and we’ll cover the role of herbs in some depth in next week’s article.