It isn’t very surprising that a sugary snack isn’t as filling as a healthier alternative, but did you know that the same foods can differ in how satisfying they are, simply because you prepared them differently? Let’s look at breakfasts. Oatmeal is a classic – hearty, filling, and nutritious, it ticks all the boxes and can keep you satisfied for hours. If on Monday you ate a bowl of oatmeal and fruit, and on Tuesday you went with a quick and easy bowl of cereal, you’d feel the urge to start snacking much earlier than on Monday morning.
What causes such discrepancies between two breakfasts of equal volume? The first culprit is sugar, which cereal – even a lot of those which purport to be healthy – is loaded with. When consumed, sugar is converted into glucose within minutes, which raises blood and heart pressure and increases mental awareness. Your taste receptors release feel-good hormones which provide the addictive sugar high, but these pleasant effects wear off quickly as the body begins to process the glucose in an attempt to eliminate it from the bloodstream, a process which results in the creation of insulin. However, insulin overproduction leads to low blood glucose, which causes mood swings, sudden energy slumps and negatively affected sleep, earning the name ‘sugar crash’. Imagine enduring this cycle every morning! No wonder you want a big lunch and plenty of snacks throughout your day.
The second factor is carbohydrates – the more overly processed the carb, the faster it is absorbed, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. For an example, let’s pit bread against spaghetti. Both are made from wheat and neither contain added sugar. It stands to reason, then, that consuming the same amount of calories of each would produce the same effect on the body, yes? No. The former is a higher-glycaemic food, while the latter is lower-glycaemic. Spaghetti, while undergoing a certain amount of processing, is at the end of the day a uniformly dense portion of wheat carbs, while bread contains many tiny air bubbles, which means the body can break it down much faster. So while the longer-to-digest spaghetti strands provide the body with a sustained, slow rose in blood sugar, the speedily broken-down bread provides a spike in blood sugar, which leads to an insulin spike and a ‘sugar crash’ – even though you didn’t consciously eat any sugar! This crash then drives the blood sugar levels down, triggering a hunger response, which then leads to the cravings and the ingestion of additional calories, and if more high-glycaemic foods are eaten, this leads to a vicious cycle.
The end goal for any persons seeking to keep themselves full for longer, would be to actively consume foods that have been processed as little as possible, and contain little to no added sugar, encompassing most fresh fruits and vegetables, good sources of protein, and foods that are in as whole a state as possible. In carbohydrate form, this would be choosing brown rices, breads and wheat products, choosing wholegrain and high fibre labelled items, and eating smaller portions of dense, whole foods rather than large portions of finely processed foods. Oatmeal is perfect for this – a smaller portion is both lower in calories and carbohydrates, and yet will provide the body with such a sustained release of energy as to control insulin production, blood glucose levels, excess calorie intake, and provide the body with essential nutrients, making oats the perfect breakfast choice.