You’ve probably heard that weight loss is simply about balancing ‘calories in vs calories out’.
But if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you’ll know that counting calories and restricting your energy intake without changing what you eat only works for a short time.
It becomes harder and harder to feel satisfied eating a carefully portion-controlled slice of pizza, fries or creamy pasta.
When we limit calories, our hunger, cravings and appetite increase. Before long, most people ‘fall off the wagon’. Their appetite takes over and undoes all your hard work and deprivation.
Can you relate?
The good news is, it’s not your fault. It’s just your survival instincts taking back control from your conscious mind that wants to lose weight.
But what if you could feel full and satisfied while eating fewer calories?
Things wouldn’t be so bad. Right?
Our analysis has shown that people who get the nutrients they require from their food eat achieve greater satiety across the day and have a much better chance of maintaining a long-term energy deficit without excessive hunger. Over time, this allows them to achieve sustainable weight loss and, before too long, a healthy weight and body composition.
The feeling of fullness or satisfaction is called satiety.
Achieving greater satiety with fewer calories over the long term may just be the holy grail of sustainable weight loss.
In this article, we want to share our data-driven insights into satiety from one hundred and forty thousand days of data from forty thousand people who have used Nutrient Optimiser. This is the same process we guide people through in our Macros Masterclass and Micros Masterclass to achieve greater satiety per calorie over the long term.
So, strap in, hold on tight, and let’s investigate the ins and outs of satiety!
- What Is Satiety?
- What Does Satiety Feel Like?
- What Is an Example of Satiety?
- Short Term vs Long Term Satiety
- Satiety Per Calorie
- Optimiser Data
- What Hormones Are Involved in Satiety?
- What Triggers Satiety?
- How Can We Measure Satiety?
- What Does ‘Eating to Satiety’ Mean?
- Eating FOR Satiety vs Eating TO Satiety?
- What is Sensory-Specific Satiety?
- What Is Early Satiety?
- How Does When I Eat Impact Satiety?
- How do the Macros of My Food Impact Satiety?
- How Do Solid vs Liquid Meals and Viscosity Impact Satiety?
- How Do Ultra-Processed Foods Impact Satiety?
- Which Nutrients Align with Greater Satiety
- Which Nutrients Align with Eating More?
- The Satiety Index Score
- High Satiety Foods
- High Satiety Meals
- How to Level Up Your Satiety
What Is Satiety?
Satiety is the feeling of fullness and satisfaction you experience after eating. Satiety is simply the absence of hunger.
What Does Satiety Feel Like?
People who experience greater satiety:
- have better control over their appetite rather than feeling their appetite is controlling them or that they are ‘addicted to food’,
- feel comfortably full after meals,
- are able to go longer between meals,
- are not constantly thinking about what they will eat next, and
- can make better food choices without gravitating to energy-dense, nutrient-poor comfort foods when it’s time to eat again.
What Is an Example of Satiety?
Imagine how you feel immediately after eating a healthy meal; you feel content and energised to get on with your day.
You are not thinking about food. You can walk away from your refrigerator, pantry, and freezer without a second thought. You will continue to feel this way in the hours after.
Short Term vs Long Term Satiety
However, when discussing satiety, it’s critical to understand that different foods will make you feel satiated over different timeframes.
Unfortunately, most of the research on satiety to date has focused on short-term satiety based on the perceived feeling of fullness in the few hours after eating and how much study participants ate at the next meal.
But weight loss is a long-term game. So, you don’t just want to feel satiated for an hour or two after a specific meal. Instead, you want to feel satiated for the whole day, every day.
Foods that Provide Short-Term Satiety
Foods with a low energy density, which contain more water and fibre and less fat, tend to make us feel full in the short term. Our stomach expands, and we can’t physically fit anything more in.
Low-energy-density foods that provide short short-term satiety can be helpful, but they can also leave you hungry in a few hours. Once you digest the bulky meal or watery soup, you may be ravenous and searching for a quick energy hit.
For more details, see Low Energy Density Foods and Recipes: Will They Help You Feel Full with Fewer Calories?
Foods that Provide Long-Term Satiety
Foods that contain more protein, minerals and vitamins per calorie tend to satisfy our cravings with fewer calories over the longer term. They give our bodies what we need. Thus, we can go longer between meals without thinking about food.
Foods that provide long-term satiety also tend to have a lower energy density and naturally contain more water and fibre. But importantly, they also contain the amino acids and essential nutrients our bodies need to thrive. Once you give your body what it needs, your appetite settles down. Getting food is no longer an emergency or a matter of survival.
For more, see Energy Density vs Protein % for Satiety and Weight Loss.
Satiety Per Calorie
To lose weight, you want to feel satiated with fewer calories.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to judge satiety subjectively without accurately tracking our food.
High-fat foods can make us feel full quickly and keep us satisfied for a long time. However, we may have consumed many more calories than we needed to achieve that satiety.
Fat is not necessarily a bad fuel—it tends to come along with essential amino acids—but it’s also easy to overdo dietary fat if your goal is to lose body fat.
We’re fortunate to have access to a large amount of data that has enabled us to precisely quantify the properties of food that empower us to feel satisfied with fewer calories across the whole day, every day.
Over the past five years, more than forty thousand people have used our app, Nutrient Optimiser. We now have more than one hundred and forty thousand days of food logging from people like you, living and eating in the real world.
What Hormones Are Involved in Satiety?
Before we dive into the factors that influence satiety the most, we want to highlight a few key hormones involved in satiety, including ghrelin, leptin, and cholecystokinin.
Cholecystokinin (CKK) gives us the feeling of satiation and fullness in the short term. Once you eat, cholecystokinin is released to suppress your appetite while your body digests your food. Thus, it also helps to manage our energy intake over the short term.
Ghrelin is our primary hunger hormone. When ghrelin rises, we feel compelled to eat. Our stomachs produce ghrelin, which signals back to the brain that it’s time to seek out food. Interestingly, ghrelin also has anti-inflammatory effects and a role in the immune system. Many beneficial things are associated with a bit of hunger and eating less.
In contrast to ghrelin, leptin is responsible for making us feel full. Like insulin and glucagon, leptin and ghrelin work in tandem to regulate your hunger signals. Our fat cells produce leptin, meaning we release more of it when we carry more fat. Thus, we (should) feel more satiated and less motivated to eat when leptin is high. However, in a condition known as Leptin Resistance, someone’s body no longer responds to leptin.
Leptin targets the hypothalamus, the control centre of your endocrine (hormone) system. Your hormones are signalling molecules that regulate every bodily process.
In someone who is metabolically healthy, leptin tells the brain how much fat the body should carry; if you have enough or too much body fat, it says, ‘you have enough energy on board; you don’t need to eat!’ Conversely, leptin levels drop to motivate your body to eat again.
In Leptin Resistance, the leptin signalling system does not work as it does in someone who is lean and metabolically healthy. This is because the brain has lost its sensitivity to leptin. As a result, your body perceives starvation despite having plenty of stored energy.
A significant amount of research has shown that Leptin Resistance and the brain’s inability to respond to leptin are associated with chronic inflammatory conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, impaired gut microbiota (dysbiosis), toxin exposure and autoimmunity.
Insulin and ghrelin tend to work synergistically, meaning if someone has high insulin, their body may produce more ghrelin and hence more hunger. So, if you do what it takes to reverse your insulin resistance, you will also restore healthy leptin sensitivity.
Foods that raise insulin and blood glucose tend to make us feel satiated over the short term. Insulin regulates the flow of stored fuel from your body, so insulin rises when energy builds up in your bloodstream and body.
Can we Actively Manage Our Hormones?
Unfortunately, hormones are hard to measure in real-time, hence hard to interpret and apply on your day-to-day weight loss journey. Fortunately, we can use our blood glucose as an instantaneous fuel gauge which also works as a proxy for insulin and other hormones.
As you lower your blood glucose, particularly your glucose before eating, you will reverse insulin resistance and leptin resistance. In our Data-Driven Fasting Challenges, we show participants how they can use their glucose to re-calibrate and train their hunger signals with their body’s need for food.
What Triggers Satiety?
Throughout different phases of digestion, various hormones are released, including cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide-1, peptide YY, insulin, and leptin. These compounds cumulatively help you feel full.
Later, when you’re hungry, ghrelin is released to get you to eat. Once you satisfy your cravings, food makes its way to your stomach. Here, leptin is released, which tells the brain it’s time to stop eating. Stretch factors are also released in response to the volume of food expanding your belly, which signals to your brain that you’re filling up.
Once food makes it into the small intestine, the hormones cholecystokinin and peptide YY are released, where they travel back to the brain and signal to stop eating. The more energy we consume, the more peptide YY we produce.
The pancreas produces insulin as our bodies absorb the energy consumed. Aside from helping us move the energy from food into our cells, insulin also serves as an anti-catabolic hormone that puts the brakes on the amount of energy released from storage so we can use up the energy from the food we’ve just eaten. It also halts our appetite for the same reason.
How Can We Measure Satiety?
Researchers often measure subjective satiety on a Likert scale, like the one shown below, before and at fixed time intervals after eating. The amount of food at a buffet three hours later is often also used to understand how satiating a meal is.
Unfortunately, these short-duration controlled laboratory measurements tend to bias results towards shorter-term satiety and, thus, lower energy-density foods and meals.
Fortunately, our data from people using Nutrient Optimiser provides total daily calorie intake over many days and enables us to understand the parameters in food that influence satiety and the eating patterns that provide greater satiety per calorie over the long term.
To illustrate, the chart below shows % protein vs calorie intake. In line with protein leverage, we tend to eat less when our diet contains a higher percentage of protein. While many factors influence satiety, protein % is the most dominant factor.
What Does ‘Eating to Satiety’ Mean?
Eating to satiety means consuming enough food to feel satisfied. The amount of food to achieve satiety varies from person to person depending on factors like hunger levels, activity output, the type of food someone consumes (i.e., junk vs whole foods), and how much food they’ve already consumed throughout the day and the day before.
Our bodies regulate our appetite to ensure we get enough nutrients and energy to support our activity levels and muscle mass.
Other than when they are tracking their food and trying to restrict it, most people eat until they feel satisfied. However, simply focusing on the number of calories required to feel satisfied is only part of the story.
Eating FOR Satiety vs Eating TO Satiety?
Eating to satiety and eating for satiety have very different effects on the body.
If someone is eating to satiety, they are eating without intention and are seeking out the short-term fullness you feel in your stomach after you eat a big meal.
Eating for satiety requires us to be more intentional with our food choices. Here, someone targets the macronutrients and micronutrients positively associated with a greater degree of satiety. These may include fibre and protein and the minerals and vitamins they are currently not getting enough of in their current diet to satisfy their cravings with fewer calories.
Because our bodies crave enough of each of the essential nutrients, we can modify our diet to eat FOR satiety. So, when we give our bodies the nutrients it needs with fewer calories, we increase our satiety per calorie.
What is Sensory-Specific Satiety?
You might have heard of the law of diminishing returns. Essentially, as you buy, eat, or consume more of something, the satisfaction it brings you will dissipate as you have more of it. There is often a point of maximum satisfaction, but things tend to decrease after that point is reached. The phenomenon is represented by a parabola, like the one shown below.
Sensory-specific satiety is essentially the same, but it’s specific to food. This phenomenon explains how consumption of that food decreases as someone continues to eat it because the sensory pleasure we get from that food also falls. So, after your third slice of strawberry cheesecake, you’re either full or ready for a different flavour, aren’t you?
What Is Early Satiety?
Early satiety is the sensation of fullness that occurs after only eating a small amount of food. It can be accompanied by bloating, belching, feeling excessively full, and nausea.
Early satiety is not necessarily good, as it may indicate an underlying problem. It’s a common symptom of gastroparesis, a condition where the stomach muscles cannot properly move food through the digestive system.
It can also indicate peptic ulcers, gastritis, a Helicobacter pylori infection, low stomach acid, dysbiosis, or another gastrointestinal disorder.
How Does When I Eat Impact Satiety?
When you eat can also impact satiety. For example, people who consume more of their calories earlier in the day tend to eat less across the day.
Providing your body with adequate energy early in the day seems to offer it a fuel source to run off, while the food eaten later in the day is more likely to be energy-dense, low-satiety comfort foods that will be stored overnight.
If you are trying to delay your meals longer than usual, your blood sugar will likely drop, which will cause a surge in appetite that might not be well controlled. Hence, eating in line with your blood glucose fluctuations—as we teach in our Data-Driven Fasting Challenges—is critical to giving you an even feeling of satiety.
How do the Macros of My Food Impact Satiety?
The macronutrients of food, or the protein, fat, carbohydrates, and alcohol, all impact satiety, at least to a certain degree.
As mentioned earlier, protein tends to be the most satiating nutrient per calorie. Meanwhile, a higher fat % aligns almost linearly with consuming more calories. As shown in the chart below, people who consume a diet with a higher % of energy from fat tend to eat more.
Carbohydrates have a more intriguing satiety response. The chart below shows that the lowest calorie intake aligns with 10-20% of energy from non-fibre carbohydrates.
Meanwhile, the maximum energy intake aligns with about 43% non-fibre carbohydrates, with most of the remaining calories from fat. This fat+carb combination, with less protein and fibre, is the signature of modern ultra-processed foods.
Towards the far right of this chart, we see that people who consume a high-carb, low-fat diet tend to eat less than those in the fat+carb danger zone. However, although we have data from more than forty thousand people, very few people seem to be able to maintain this very high-carb, low-fat diet without gravitating back to the hyper-palatable fat and carb combo.
While it may seem like a low-fat diet is the way to go, the reality is that some fat tends to come with protein, so it’s hard to slash fat while still getting adequate protein. Instead, greater satiety aligns with prioritising protein while dialling back energy from both carbs and fat.
Because fat and protein take longer to digest and absorb, they keep us feeling satiated for longer. Macronutrients like protein also evoke the greatest satiety response, and high-protein whole foods like seafood, meat, and poultry tend to contain an array of nutrients that are all critical for satiety.
How Do Solid vs Liquid Meals and Viscosity Impact Satiety?
Viscous foods that are thicker, stickier, or have a more semi-fluid consistency tend to be more filling than less-viscous foods. A food’s viscosity can have several impacts on satiety. First, this is because they take longer to eat and require more chewing, which gives the brain more time to register that the stomach is full.
Additionally, more viscous foods tend to contain other constituents like fibre, which slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, this can regulate blood sugar levels and prevent spikes in hunger.
For example, think about how full you feel after drinking apple or orange juice when you eat an apple or orange in its unprocessed form. Which makes you feel fuller, and which makes you feel fuller over the long term? It’s likely the fruit in its whole form, as it contains fibre and requires you to chew it.
How Do Ultra-Processed Foods Impact Satiety?
Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are generally high in fat and sugar and low in protein, fibre, and nutrients.
Aside from UPFs’ effects on blood sugar, they also play into our reward system. Carbs and fat each elicit the release of dopamine independently of one another. Thus, combining the two results in a supra-additive dopamine response we can’t resist, which prompts us to eat more.
UPFs also tend to be low in protein. However, our in-depth multivariate satiety analysis repeatedly shows that protein is the most satiating nutrient. Thus, the amino acids that make up protein are incredibly satiating micronutrients. This is likely because our bodies have substantial demands for protein, meaning we will continue to seek out food and eat until we get our fix.
UPFs are also low in nutrients associated with satiety, like potassium, calcium, and fibre. This effect is similar to low-protein foods on how satisfied we feel; we will continue to eat more as our bodies seek the raw ingredients they require to function and thrive.
Which Nutrients Align with Greater Satiety
In our extensive multivariate satiety analysis, we looked for the components of food that align with eating fewer calories.
When we look at each essential nutrient separately, we find that packing more of each of them aligns with eating less. To illustrate, the chart below shows the satiety response to each of the individual minerals.
The chart below shows the satiety response to each of the vitamins.
Finally, the chart below shows that getting more of each of the amino acids that make up protein per calorie tends to align with eating less.
While it’s ideal to obtain more of all the essential nutrients per calorie, through multivariate analysis, we found some have a more significant impact than others. We consistently found that the following nutrients coincided with the most significant decrease in calories consumed:
- Protein %
- Pantothenic acid (B5), and
- Folate (B9).
Many other nutrients appear to play a role in satiety, but their effects were not statistically significant once these nutrients were considered.
Which Nutrients Align with Eating More?
The multivariate analysis of the data from Optimisers showed that the following components of food were associated with eating more:
- Saturated fat,
- Monounsaturated fat,
- Starch, and
While each energy-providing nutrients are present in whole foods, they usually come with plenty of fibre or protein along with minerals and vitamins. On the other hand, modern ultra-processed food products often provide all of these energy sources together with minimal protein, fibre, minerals or vitamins. This overdrives our dopamine circuits to make us want to eat more of these foods while providing minimal nutrients.
The Satiety Index Score
As you can see, many factors align with satiety per calorie which at first glance might appear challenging to implement together. Fortunately, the multivariate regression analysis provides coefficients that allow us to estimate the calorie intake of any food or meal based on its nutrient profile.
We have used this to create a Satiety Index Score, which ranks foods and meals from 0 to 100. Rather than thinking in terms of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ foods, this allows us to rank foods from more optimal to less optimal based on your goals.
High Satiety Foods
To help you find high-satiety foods you love, we’ve prepared this chart which shows nutrient density (per calorie) vs nutrient density (per serving) vs the satiety index score.
- Foods shown in green will provide greater satiety per calorie, while the foods shown in red will be easier to overconsume.
- Foods towards the right will provide more nutrients per calorie, but they tend to be hard to consume in significant quantities. So, you may want to start with the high-satiety foods towards the top of the chart and then augment your micronutrient profile with some of the foods towards the right.
If you want to dive into this data a little more, click here to view the interactive Tableau version of this chart.
High Satiety Meals
While it might seem boring to eat single whole foods and hard to try and throw all of these foods together to make a perfectly satiating meal, we’ve spent the last few years creating some of the most nutrient-dense, high-satiety recipes to take the guesswork out of cooking. As a result, we now have over nine hundred NutriBooster recipes and 30 recipe books!
The chart below shows our database of NutriBooster recipes on a chart of Diet Quality Score vs Protein % vs Satiety Index Score.
- Recipes shown in green will provide more satiety per calorie.
- Recipes towards the right will provide more nutrients per calorie
Again, you can click here to view the interactive Tableau version of this chart. When you click on each of the points, you’ll see a popup with the properties of the recipe. You’ll also find a link at the bottom to open the recipe in your browser.
How to Level Up Your Satiety
When most people decide to lose weight, they tend to want to jump to extremes for rapid results.
However, after five years of running our programs, we’ve found that it’s ideal to level up their Satiety Index Score and Diet Quality Score progressively. You need to find the right balance of nutrients vs energy that suits your context and preferences.
Along the top of the interactive Tableau version of the recipes chart, you will find tabs that break the recipes up based on their protein %:
- Level 0 – less than 15% protein
- Level 1 – 15 – 25% protein
- Level 2 – 25 to 35% protein
- Level 3 – 35 to 45% protein, and
- Level 4 – more than 45% protein.
If you’re currently eating a highly processed diet with less than 15% protein, the level 1 protein recipes might be a great place to start. Level 2 might be a great place to start if you’re already eating a reasonably healthy diet.
Once you consistently stick to these recipes without excessive hunger or going off plan, you can level up to higher protein and more nutrient-dense recipes.
- Increasing the long-term satiety per calorie value of your food is critical to feeling full with less hunger and sustainable weight loss.
- Many factors influence satiety. Foods and meals with a lower energy density and more fibre will provide more short-term satiety, while more protein, minerals, and vitamins will satisfy your cravings over the longer term.
- Using one hundred and forty thousand days of data from forty thousand people, we have developed a Satiety Index Score, which enables us to rank foods and meals based on their satiety per calorie.
- Progressively incorporating more foods and meals with a higher Satiety Index Score will help to increase your satiety and make you feel satisfied with less energy.