Even in societies with plenty of food, where people eat frequently, why is hunger a growing problem?
It’s shameful that hunger still exists in a world with more than enough resources for all to be fed. Ironically, many who are overfed are also starving.
An overfat pandemic now affects the entire world — with more people obese than underweight for the first time in human history. This phenomenon exists even in areas of poverty, while a new hunger has taken over.
The reason for ongoing excess hunger is not a lack of food, but rather an excess of junk food. Processed foods make us hungrier, especially for more junk. This plague of poor nutrition exists not only in developing nations but even in the highest-income countries, as processed-food consumption has risen to high levels.
The ‘H’ Factor: Hunger
At one time, hearing the word hunger would bring images of malnourished, emaciated people. This problem still exists, and as starvation has continually been reduced in recent decades, the overfat pandemic rapidly grew. With it came a new kind of malnutrition.
Today, the number of obese people far outweighs those who are undernourished. And the numbers of people with a new hunger has grown too — one frequently felt by billions of people. It’s a symptom caused not from a lack of food, but overeating refined carbohydrates, junk food that starves the body’s cells of proper nutrients.
Eating healthy food should reduce hunger for hours, while helping you cut excess body fat. But if hunger appears too often, too soon after eating, between meals or during the night, it can be a problem. It may indicate the brain is confused — while it’s saying “eat” because the body is missing key nutrients, you probably ate not that long ago. This is one of the problems associated with eating sugar and other refined carbohydrates — it affects hormones that ultimately cause hunger.
Excess hunger can be a symptom of either hyper- or hypoglycemia, although many people with normal blood sugar levels become hungry
Produced in the stomach, ghrelin is a major hormone that leads us to feel hunger, with levels elevating after periods of an empty stomach. Ghrelin is significantly increased or decreased, along with hunger and the lack of it, by the macronutrients we eat — carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The hunger hormone is reduced with more fat and protein in the meal, and increased with more carbohydrates.
Those with more body fat have higher amounts of the hunger hormone, with lower levels of the hormones that produce satiety.
Satiation is the feeling of satisfaction or fullness, leading to reduced hunger. This is the result of numerous other gut hormones, including those from the pancreas, along with leptin from stored fat. All are released after a healthy meal.
Carbohydrate intake releases another important hormone that controls hunger — insulin. The more refined the carbohydrate food, the more insulin is released. The result is that more of the carbohydrate consumed turns to fat and is stored. Insulin also reduces the body’s ability to burn stored body fat for energy.
Protein and fat in the diet can help hunger too, especially in relation to burning off body fat. Studies show that meat-based diets containing 25 to 30 percent protein can result in significant weight loss. Another study demonstrated that 20 grams of supplemental whey protein taken three times daily significantly helped exercising individuals lose weight and body fat.
Fat in food helps lead to the satisfying feeling after meals. This includes the natural fats in meat, fish, eggs and other foods, along with butter and ghee, olive oil and coconut oil. It may simply be that fat reduces hunger by keeping food in the stomach longer. Fat is also the tastiest of macronutrients. Taste plays an important role in controlling hunger too — those who don’t taste their food well have more hunger hormones.
The feeling of hunger comes from both the brain and gut.
- The muscles in the stomach that distend and squeeze food out into the small intestines can trigger hunger.
- Just the thought of food, including seeing, smelling or hearing it cook, starts an avalanche of various hormones that regulate hunger. Mental or emotional stress can control hunger too. Companies take advantage of all these factors to entice you to buy and eat.
Other factors associated with hunger include:
- Chewing, which plays an important role in balancing hormones that control hunger. Essentially, the increased number of chews in each bite can reduce hunger.
- How we eat is important too. Eating quickly is associated with reduced satiety and increased body weight, while eating slower has been shown to favor burning off more body fat.
- The time of day when meals are eaten is important. Eating at a time when our internal circadian clock promotes sleep — starting in the early evening and through the night — can add to stored body fat. If we’re hungry all evening or wake up during the night hungry, obviously hunger balance is disturbed.
- Aerobic exercise can help balance hunger and satiety hormones because this type of workout is associated with increased fat-burning. But if you are ravenous after a workout, it may be that it was not aerobic, but anaerobic, and promoting less burning of fat calories.