One of the biggest problems with modern diets rich in industrial foods is that they promote unnatural hunger patterns. For example, hunger can be caused by hypoglycemic dips, coupled with force-storage of fat in adipocytes, after meals rich in refined carbohydrates. This is a double-edged post-meal pattern that is induced by, among other things, abnormally elevated insulin levels. The resulting hunger is a rather unnatural type of hunger.
By the way, I often read here and there, mostly in blogs, that “insulin suppresses hunger”. I frankly don’t know where this idea comes from. What actually happens is that insulin is co-secreted with a number of other hormones. One of those, like insulin also secreted by the beta-cells in the pancreas, is amylin – a powerful appetite suppressor. Amylin deficiency leads to hunger even after a large carbohydrate-rich meal, when insulin levels are elevated.
Abnormally high insulin levels – like those after a “healthy” breakfast of carbohydrate-rich cereals, pancakes etc. – lead to abnormal blood glucose dips soon after the meal. What I am talking about here is a fall in glucose levels that is considerable, and that also happens very fast – illustrated by the ratio between the lengths of the vertical and horizontal black lines on the figure below, from a previous post ().
Those hypoglycemic dips induce hunger, because the hormonal changes necessary to apply a break to the fall in glucose levels (which left unchecked would lead to death) leave us with a hormonal mix that ends up stimulating hunger, in an unnatural way. At the bottom of those dips, insulin levels are much lower than before. I am not talking about diabetics here. I am talking about normoglycemic folks, like the ones whose glucose levels are show on the figure above.
On a diet primarily of natural foods, or foods that are not heavily modified from their natural state, hunger patterns tend to be better synchronized with nutrient deficiencies. This is one of the main advantages of a natural foods diet. By nutrients, I do not mean only micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, but also macronutrients such as amino and fatty acids.
On a natural diet, nutrient deficiencies should happen regularly. Our bodies are designed for sporadic nutrient intake, remaining most of the time in the fasted state. Human beings are unique in that they have very large brains in proportion to their overall body size, brains that run primarily on glucose – the average person’s brain consumes about 5 g/h of glucose. This latter characteristic makes it very difficult to extrapolate diet-based results based on other species to humans.
As hunger becomes better synchronized with nutrient deficiencies, it should promote optimal nutrient partitioning. This means that, among other things: (a) you should periodically feel hungry for different types of food, depending on your nutrient needs at that point in time; (b) if you do weight training, and fell hungry, some muscle gain should follow; and (c) if you let hunger drive food consumption, on a diet of predominantly natural foods, body fat levels should remain relatively low.
In this sense, hunger becomes your friend – and the best spice!