If you’re new to healthy eating, you may wonder if you’ll ever feel full again. But fortunately, there are plenty of filling foods that are also nutritious.
Today’s fad diets are highly restrictive, often depriving you of entire food groups and the essential nutrients they have to offer. Not only do these diets leave you still hungry, but they are also nutrient deficient.
That’s why in the search for healthy foods that fill you up, balance is key.
Foods high in beneficial nutrients like protein, fiber, and even water can keep you feeling fuller, longer. And in 1995, Australian researchers developed a handy measurement system to quantify these properties in foods, called the satiety index.
What Is the Satiety Index?
Satiety is simply the sensation of fullness after eating. For the study, participants were asked to rate the satiety-producing effects of 38 common foods divvied up into six categories:
- Protein-rich foods
- Carbohydrate-rich foods
- Breakfast cereals
- Bakery products
- Snacks and confectionary
Researchers used white bread as a reference food (control), assigning it a score of 100. Foods ranked as more satiating scored above 100, while the less-satiating foods scored under 100. In the end, the fruit group had the highest average score, and the bakery products group had the lowest.
There was also a positive correlation between the protein, fiber, and water contents of the food and their satiety index (SI) score.
So, what makes these nutrients so filling?
Research shows protein triggers the release of the “fullness hormone,” peptide YY. Simultaneously, it suppresses blood levels of the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin.
Meanwhile, the fiber in foods takes longer to digest, which keeps you satisfied for longer after you’ve finished eating.
And lastly, water helps you feel full by taking up more space in your stomach. Your stomach then communicates to your brain that it’s full, so your feelings of hunger should subside.
Top 12 Most Filling Foods
We’ve put together a list of the study’s top scorers, plus a few others, to help guide you in your food choices. Let’s have a look.
SI score: 133 (lentils)
Legumes include beans, peas, lentils, and, yes, peanuts from the family Fabaceae. If you live outside of North America, you may know them in their dry state as pulses. Being high in both protein and fiber, legumes offer a two-pronged solution to your hunger pangs.
One ounce (28 grams) of raw black beans, for example, supplies 12% of the recommended daily value (DV) of protein, as well as 17% of your daily fiber needs.
A scientific review, published in the journal Obesity in 2014, assessed the effect of pulses on post-meal satiety. Findings showed that overall, pulses increased satiety by 31%, compared with controls such as white bread and pasta.
SI score: 209 (porridge)
Oats (Avena sativa) are another healthy high-fiber food that can quiet a rumbling tummy. They are especially rich in a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan.
Soluble fiber draws in water, forming a gel-like consistency in the gut. This keeps food in your digestive tract longer, which helps hold off that feeling of emptiness.
Studies also show that beta-glucan lowers the body’s glucose response after a meal. It delays the passage of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing unhealthy spikes in blood sugar. These can lead to type 2 diabetes and even heart disease over time.
SI score: 197
Could an apple a day keep the munchies away? Absolutely! Thanks to all of the fiber and water the Malus domestica has in store.
One medium-sized apple (100 grams) contains 2.4 grams of fiber, or 10% DV. It’s also 86% water, all while being low-calorie!
Just make sure you keep the skin intact. It’s where most of the fiber and other beneficial nutrients reside.
In addition to vitamins A and C, you’ll find good amounts of quercetin—the plant pigment in the peel. This compound is an antioxidant that’s been shown to have protective effects against cancer and heart disease.
Apples placed second in the winning fruit group from the satiety study.
SI score: 150
Eggs can make a filling snack anytime of the day. They’re one of the highest quality sources of protein available.
Eggs are packed with protein—one large, hard-boiled egg contains six grams. And cooked eggs have 91% protein bioavailability, which means nearly all of the nutrient is absorbed by your body.
Also, unlike many other high-protein items, eggs are low in saturated fat. The latest research suggests this fat is far more dangerous for your heart than the cholesterol in eggs.
One 2017 study found that people who ate two eggs per day for four weeks had lower blood levels of hunger-inducing ghrelin than those who ate oatmeal daily. They also maintained a healthy good-to-bad cholesterol ratio.
SI score: 323
Ranked the most satiating food in the initial satiety index study, potatoes (Solanum tuberosumare) are a nutrient-dense vegetable with an undeserved bad reputation.
They are a starchy carbohydrate. But potatoes are also rich in vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins, and filling water.
The method of preparation is important here. Baked or boiled, with skin on, offers the most nutrition and satiety.
In a 2013 study, potato-based side dishes left participants with a “lower desire to eat” than pasta or white bread. Researchers had given the subjects one of four sides or white bread on five mornings, followed by a lunch.
Separate research suggests a special protein in potatoes, called proteinase inhibitor 2, may work as an appetite suppressant.
SI score: 202
Oranges (Citrus sinensis) are a fibrous, low-calorie option for your sweet tooth.
One large orange (184 grams) delivers 4.4 grams of fiber (18% DV) at only 86 calories. Plus, it’s 87% water.
A dominant fiber in oranges is water-soluble pectin. Though most of it resides in the peel, some is also found in the pulp. Pectin has shown to be more effective than protein at increasing satiety and decreasing calorie intake and obesity in animal studies.
Research further shows that whole-fruit fiber is superior to the fiber in juice alone. So, leave no parts unused!
Add some orange wedges to your midday quinoa bowl. Then use the zest from the peel to brighten up your dressing. It may just be what holds you over until dinner.
SI score: 225 (ling fish)
Full of protein yet low in unhealthy fat, fish is a favored animal source in many of the world’s healthiest diets.
We’ve noted that protein can influence hormones connected to hunger and fullness. And fish outperformed every other high-protein food in the Australian SI study. That included steak, eggs, and cheese.
But another interesting study indicates that the omega-3 fats in fish may also play a role. A diet rich in these long-chain fatty acids reduced hunger sensations in overweight and obese volunteers on a weight loss regimen in research published in the journal Appetite in 2008.
Omega-3s are also linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, eye disease, and depression.
SI score: 154
Whole-grain popcorn is brimming with hunger-quelling fiber. A one-cup serving (eight grams) contains 1.2 grams of the indigestible carbohydrate. And that’s at only 31 calories to boot!
In a 2012 study published in Nutrition Journal, popcorn was found to be more filling than potato chips.
Besides a fuller stomach, you’ll also get decent amounts of bone-healthy manganese and phosphorus in popcorn.
To keep it as healthy as possible, skip the oil and make your own batch with an air popper. Substitute herbs and spices for salt and heavy butter.
Nuts, and the other remaining items on our list, were not included in the original SI study. But recent studies show they’re no less filling or healthy.
Regularly eating walnuts decreased subjects’ feelings of hunger and appetite in one 2018 study. And a mid-morning almond snack suppressed hunger better than crackers in a clinical trial from 2019.
The satiating effects are thought to be due to the nuts’ fiber, protein, and unsaturated fat content.
A 2017 systematic review in Physiological Reviews reports that unsaturated fats, in particular, prompt the release of fullness hormones peptide YY and cholecystokinin. These can delay the passage of food through your digestive system.
Globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus) pack a satisfying punch of fiber and water.
There are 6.9 grams of the former in a medium-sized artichoke (128 grams). That’s nearly 30% of the daily recommendation for women. Furthermore, the edible flower bud is 84% water.
Artichokes contain a prebiotic fiber called inulin. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut, which in turn convert the fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These are associated with reduced appetite and food intake and better weight management.
SCFAs seem to stimulate production of appetite-curbing hormones.
A study published in Nutrition & Metabolism found that supplementing with inulin decreased appetite, promoted weight loss, and reduced fat mass in prediabetic adults.
11. Greek Yogurt
Thick, protein-filled yogurts of the Greek variety may also help keep your appetite in check.
In a 2013 study, researchers found that, compared to lower-protein yogurts, a high-protein Greek yogurt snack was better at reducing hunger, increasing feelings of fullness, and delaying the participants’ next meal.
A randomized crossover trial from 2014 produced similar results. A group of healthy women ate protein-rich yogurt, high-fat crackers, and high-fat chocolate as an afternoon snack.
Researchers concluded that the lower-calorie, higher-protein yogurt more effectively improved satiety, controlled appetite, and reduced the women’s food intake at the next meal.
Avocado (Persea americana) rounds out our list of healthy and filling foods. This creamy green fruit has loads of fiber and healthy monounsaturated fats.
There are seven grams of satiating fiber (28% DV!) per 100-gram serving. And the roughly 13 grams of heart-boosting unsaturated fat in the same amount have additional benefits for satiety.
While not considered as filling as carbohydrates (fiber) and protein, fats in general are known to affect satiety by:
- Stimulating production of appetite hormones
- Delaying stomach emptying
- Slowing bowel transit time
However, as fat can be calorie-dense, it’s important to monitor your intake of fatty foods like avocado. Experts recommend keeping to half an avocado a day.
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