Foods That Help Curb Cravings
Photo: Paul Delmont
Try: Start your day with a green smoothie with plenty of spinach leaves.
Why: A small Swedish study found that when women had a morning drink made with 5 grams of spinach extract, they reported that their cravings practically disappeared throughout the day. The study authors think it has to do with spinach's green membranes, which take longer to digest and may also trigger the release of satiety hormones into the intestines, tamping down cravings for unhealthy food. There are caveats: The spinach must be pulverized to release the satiety-inducing compounds (called thylakoids), and the study was quite small. Thylakoids aside, there's probably a powerful placebo effect at work here, says Tina Ruggiero, RD, a registered dietician and the author of The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook. Drinking a green veggie drink in the morning has been shown to make people think of themselves as "healthy" and prime them to make healthier decisions the rest of the day.
Try: Eat eggs for breakfast.
Why: When teenage girls ate a 350-calorie high-protein breakfast, they reported being more satisfied throughout the day, found researchers at the University of Missouri. What's more, the girls were less hungry and less likely to crave high-fat snacks, especially in the evening (brain scans backed this up). The study authors think that type of breakfast was perceived as being exceptionally rewarding and also stimulated the release of hormones that regulate satiety.
Try: Dribble olive oil on vanilla ice cream, Greek yogurt or toast.
Why: Numerous studies have shown that this heart-healthy fat can increase feelings of satiety. Just the scent of olive oil can cue full-belly feelings, found a study in the American Journal of Nutrition. When people were given low-fat yogurt with fat-free olive oil extract, brain scans showed that they perceived the snack as fatty and filling—even though the overall fat content was negligible (researchers believe it was all due to the aroma). When you're feeling full and satisfied, you're less likely to develop cravings, explains Ruggiero.
Try: Popped corn (hold the butter) or roasted chickpeas.
Why: Both of these easy-to-eat snacks are surprisingly high in fiber, and fiber is key to giving you that slow-burn satiety that keeps cravings at bay, says Ruggiero. A 3-cup serving of popcorn has 3 grams of fiber (triple the amount in potato chips), and a study found that eating popcorn before a meal curbed hunger and helped keep calories in check (compared with eating chips before a meal, which made people consume many more calories overall). As for chickpeas, a single cup of has 16 grams of fiber. To make the chickpeas easier to eat, Ruggiero suggests roasting them (here's how).