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Dieting? Spicy Foods May Help
People ask me this all the time: "Is it true that eating spicy foods raises your metabolism?" It sure seems like it ought to be true: when you eat spicy foods, you might feel warm and break out into a sweat, just as you would if you were exercising. Unfortunately, what research there is into the metabolic effects of eating capsaicin (the substance responsible for the spiciness in chilies) showed no effect on a person's resting metabolic rate. 

Satisfaction no longer an excuse

You've probably heard that you should eat slowly to give your body time to signal you when you're full. This is called "alimentary alliesthesia" (you don't need to remember it; there won't be a quiz). Another mechanism that helps your body control how much you eat is called "sensory-specific satiety". This term describes how eating a lot of the same kind of food will make it taste less good to you over the short term.

It's the calories, not the names
Researchers at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania wondered if there were a relationship between stereotypes about how fattening a food is and that food's actual nutrient content (Appetite 2006;46(2): 224-233).


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Feel Fuller While Dieting

We know that breakfast can help you lose weight and that those who skip breakfast tend to have a higher Body Mass Index than those who do eat breakfast. If you eat breakfast, you're also less like to snack during the rest of the day and are less likely to have heart failure. Previous research has looked at eating higher fiber meals in the morning, such as high fiber cereals or whole grain breads or muffins.

We also know that high-fiber foods are more satisfying than the same types of foods with less fiber: whole wheat bread is more satisfying than white bread, for example. During times of energy restriction (read: dieting), however, studies have shown that eating protein helps people feel more satisfied than even whole grains and fiber. So should you be eating protein at breakfast if you're trying to lose weight?

Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Kansas Medical Center teamed up to perform a study that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition (2009;101(6):798-803). They recruited 9 men over the age of 21 who were overweight or obese, were not trying to lose weight, did not smoke and did not have diabetes. The study was separated into 5 feeding trials that each lasted six days. During each feeding trial the men followed an Energy Balanced diet (meaning that the diet was designed to maintain their current weight) for three days then followed an Energy Restricted diet in which their calories were cut by 750 calories per day.

The 5 trials varied the percentage of calories from protein, carbohydrates and fats in the participants' diets as follows:

1 trial of of six days in which the participants ate a "Normal Protein Level" diet. For the first three days their diet was 11% calories from protein, 64% from carbohydrates and 25% from fat. For the next three days, their Energy Restricted Diet was 14% calories from protein, 61% from carbohydrate and 25% from fat.

4 trials of six days in which the participants at a "High Protein Level" diet. For the first three days of each trial their diet was 18% calories from protein, 57% from carbohydrates, and 25% from fat. For the following three days their Energy Restricted Diet consisted of 25% calories from protein, 50% from carbohydrates, and 25% from fat. These four trials varied the participants' protein intake by distributing the protein equally throughout the day or concentrating the additional protein at either breakfast, lunch or dinner.

On days three and six of each trial the subjects were asked to estimate their feelings of fullness over the course of the day, shortly before each meal and then at regular intervals afterward.

Their findings are very interesting. While the men felt no more satisfied during the Energy Balance High Protein Diet days than they did during the Energy Balance Normal Protein Diet days, they felt quite differently during the Energy Restriction days. According to the researchers, during the High Protein Diet days that focused the extra protein at breakfast time, the subjects felt more full during the hours following the high-protein breakfast meal than they did at those times that their additional protein was focused on lunch or dinner.

What this means for you

This is a very small study, and one that was partially funded by the National Pork Board and the American Egg Board (the additional sources of protein were eggs and pork, as you might suspect). That said, this study supports the idea that protein also helps you feel more full. Combine that with the advantages of eating breakfast by having Healthy Scrambled Eggs along with your toast for breakfast or high-protein Greek-style non-fat yogurt. Here are some more healthy breakfast suggestions.

First posted: October 13, 2014