Sensible is not a word that you usually associate with the diet industry.
Having tried just about anything in the pursuit of thin, whether it’s cutting out carbohydrates, eating a grapefruit before every meal or subsisting on nothing but cabbage soup, we’ve grown accustomed to believing that only severe action will generate results. Hearing about the latest celebrity who has acquired their dream body by living off maple syrup and cayenne pepper only exacerbates the problem.
So if you’re one of the millions of people who have failed to stick to their punishing and restrictive New Year diets, you might be interested to hear that a much more sensible approach to nutrition is rapidly receiving more attention; one that threatens to put an end to the dreaded fad diet. It suggests that choosing foods that will fill you up quicker and keep you full for longer mean you won’t be tempted to overeat or snack.
No food group is totally banned, but some are more desirable than others. Foods are rated on something called the Satiety Index, which determines how satisfied you feel after eating them.
Generally speaking, the more fibre, protein and water a food contains, the longer it will satisfy. Therefore foods high on the satiety index (such as fish, eggs, apples, soup, potatoes and porridge) are in, while foods low down on the index (yoghurt, rice, white bread, muesli and bananas) are out.
Increasing the amount of protein you eat really is key to this way of eating. The average British diet is about 15 per cent protein, which is adequate for growth, tissue repair and maintenance, but if that is increased to around 20 or 30 per cent, then it will significantly increase satiation. Protein triggers the production of the PYY hormone in the brain and sparks the release of glucose in the small intestine, both of which send out satiety signals that make you feel full. However, be careful not to confuse the Satiety Index with that other diet buzz phrase, the Glycaemic Index, which measures how carbohydrates in foods affect the blood glucose levels. “People are wising up to the fact that a lot of diets that offer a quick fix don’t really work in the long term,” nutritionist and food writer Fiona Hunter says. “And they’re so restrictive and not compatible with normal life. The reason most people fail on a diet is because they get hungry. If you’re restricting your calories, it is important that those calories work hard for you and they’re the right ones.”
This sensible approach to eating has spawned a number of products keen to extol the virtues of the satiety index. Leading the field is Marks & Spencer’s Simply Fuller Longer range, which has been an overwhelming success since its launch last year. Their meals have a higher protein content to help control hunger.
The company commissioned an independent scientific study to understand how successful the range was in helping people shift pounds. They found that volunteers eating the meals felt less hungry and fuller for longer, even though they were losing weight and eating far fewer calories than they were before they started the study.
“We knew from studies that diets higher in protein are better for weight loss as protein keeps you feeling full and not reaching for snacks that can often derail the best diet plans,” says Claire Hughes, a nutritionist for Marks & Spencer.
“The range has lead to some excellent weight loss results that not only includes actual inches lost but also wider health improvements.”
WeightWatchers, the most successful weight loss plan in the country, has also amended its famous points system, so instead of just counting calories (or points), the nutritional value of the calories consumed is now taken into account. This ProPoints system has meant people on the diet are encouraged to make more satisfying choices. While all of the above claim to combat hunger by avoiding certain foods and balancing protein, fat and carbohydrates, there are also specially formulated ingredients that can be added to products to increase its satiety. A range of oat bars by Ador contain an ingredient called Fabuless – oil droplets made from palm oil and coated with galactolipids from oat oil. It exerts its appetite-reducing effect by resisting absorption and delaying the sending of hunger signals.
Modern Milk, a flavoured milk range with added fibre to stop hunger pangs has also just been launched.
This approach has not always been entirely successful, however. Danone dropped their “Feel Fuller for Longer” range of Shape yoghurts last year, replacing them with Shape Zer0%, a fatfree version. Kellogg’s also discontinued their Special K Sustain cereal, suggesting that the satiety message isn’t quite hitting home with consumers just yet.
But if you’re bored of the diet books and wearing blinkers in the supermarket, the moderate change approach instead of the quick fix sounds promising.