Controlling Satiety: What We Know About Snacking

It’s mid-afternoon and you need a snack that will tide you over until dinner. What’s the best choice? A new study explores the relation between portion size, protein, and satiety.

Years ago, I knew a nutrition teacher who was overweight – very overweight, in fact. He would actually bring it up on the first day of class because apparently it was a question he got on a regular basis. It does seem odd on the surface. He knew so much about nutrition, and yet let himself become unhealthy by his own diet. But it’s not really that strange. Despite being a nutritionist myself, telling athletes what to eat and not eat all day, it’s a struggle nevertheless. My own appetite is insatiable.

The reason for this seeming discrepancy is simple: knowledge of food and motivation to eat are two different things. It’s a tragic story befitting ancient Greek playwrights that one should eat too much food, all the while knowing exactly the effects it has. Set to the task of learning more about hunger, researchers in a study this month in Nutrition Journal both reviewed the current literature and performed a study of their own on yogurt. The researchers compared regular yogurt to Greek yogurt and explored whether one worked better than the other as a hunger-sapping snack.

In the end, the Greek yogurt performed no better than the regular yogurt at controlling hunger for a later meal, but that actually tells us something. Each yogurt had the same number of calories, but the Greek yogurt had a little more protein, although not enough to make the participants less hungry later on. But because protein creates the greatest disturbance to homeostasis (the balancing act that goes on all the time inside your body), and has been shown in meals to effectively control hunger, we know that more might be better. It’s possible that in a snack with only 14 grams of protein, there simply wasn’t enough.

The other issue is that the snacks were small, amounting to 160 calories. The other hypothesis the researchers determined was that snack size was a factor here, although there was no control group. They noted that in the past, larger snacks with a higher protein content made an important difference in satiety.

So small snacks don’t help, even with a little extra protein. In their review of the literature, the researchers found only one other study that looked at satiety and high protein snacks. The results indicated that protein outperformed both fat and carbohydrate at controlling hunger. In this case, a snack with 46 grams of protein won out over a snack of 26 grams.

The researchers also discovered that it was perceived hunger rather than desire to eat or thoughts about later meals that predicted eating patterns. Since protein out of all other foods seems to reduce perceived hunger the best, we have our answer. Healthy snacking is possible.

If you’re looking for a snack to curb hunger without killing your waistline, yogurt might not have what you need. A snack with protein in excess of 40 grams like jerky might just help you keep your appetite down while also supplying your muscles with much-needed nutrition.


1. Laura Ortinau, et. al., “The effects of increased dietary protein yogurt snack in the afternoon on appetite control and eating initiation in healthy women,Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:71

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