Ghrelin: 7 Ways to Reduce Hunger
Often, diets are hard to stick to because you get too hungry. When the cravings kick in, you inevitably give up.
One reason you crave food is a hormone called ghrelin. That’s why I’m going to show you some proven ways to reduce ghrelin levels.
So you can reach your fitness goal without feeling hungry all the time.
What Is Ghrelin?
Ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone made in the stomach. When levels rise you feel hungry, so it’s also known as the ‘hunger hormone’.
As such, keeping levels low is the key to preventing hunger.
How Does Ghrelin Work?
Ghrelin works as a signal that indicates when your stomach is empty. Like the fuel gauge in your car, it tells you when it’s time to fill up.
By making you feel hungry, ghrelin prompts you to eat in order to fuel your body. But it also works together with other hormones to regulate appetite and body weight.
Ghrelin and Leptin
If ghrelin is the ‘hunger hormone’, leptin is the ‘appetite hormone’. Where ghrelin affects how often you eat and leptin affects how much you eat.
Together, ghrelin and leptin tell you when to start and stop eating. With these signals, your body controls your calorie intake – and, indirectly, your body weight.
One important distinction is that leptin is more of a long-term energy indicator. That is, it goes up and down with body fat levels.
On the other hand, ghrelin is like a real-time indicator that rises and falls based on when and what you eat.
Thus you can take immediate actions to lower ghrelin levels with diet and lifestyle choices.
How To Reduce Ghrelin
Overall, there are several factors that affect this hormone. And you can use them together to take control of hunger.
1. Eat Frequent Meals
It’s important to realize that ghrelin levels drop with food intake. As such, it’s highest before meals and lowest immediately after meals.
So the easiest way to lower ghrelin is simply eating a meal. And eating frequent, smaller meals decreases hunger without increasing calories.
Drag the slider left and right to see the effect of meal timing on ghrelin levels. Notice how the average level is lower with frequent meals (green line).
In addition, frequent meals help you burn more calories. Through what’s known as the TEF (thermic effect of food), you expend calories by digesting meals. Particularly when those meals contain protein.
2. Consume Protein At Every Meal
One study tracked the effect of macronutrient type on ghrelin levels. With a high protein meal, ghrelin levels remained lower over 6 hours compared to fat and carbs1.
Adapted from Foster-Schubert, Karen E., et al.
Also, there was a rebound in ghrelin 3 hours after the high carb meal. Which explains why you feel full longer after eating an 8 oz steak than a medium fry from McDonald’s… even though they have equal calories.
Another study looked at how much people ate in the meal following each macronutrient type. After the high protein meal, people ate 120 calories less compared to the high carb meal2.
Therefore, consuming protein at every meal reduces hunger. And it could eliminate a few hundred calories from your daily intake with no extra effort!
3. Increase Insulin Sensitivity
In a study published by the American Diabetes Association, researchers found a strong relationship between ghrelin response and insulin sensitivity. That is, when your body regulates blood sugar properly, you feel less hungry after meals.
Adapted from Lucidi, Paola, et al.
However, many people have blood sugar issues due to poor diet and lack of exercise. This is called insulin resistance. And it blunts the ghrelin response, making you feel hungrier.
Fortunately, in most cases, insulin resistance is reversible. Sensitivity can be restored with:
4. Manage Stress
We’re all familiar with stress eating – 80% of us experience it in some way5. As it turns out, mental stress has real physical effects such as increasing ghrelin.
In addition, stress brings about food-reward behaviors that cause you to seek out calorie-dense ‘comfort foods’6. That combination of increased hunger and bad food choices leads to excessive weight gain.
For that reason, it’s vital to take measures to reduce stress where possible.
5. Sleep Longer
Short sleep duration is associated with decreased leptin and increased ghrelin, according to a joint study by Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin7.
Adapted from Taheri, Shahrad, et al
In addition, this study found that habitual sleep duration of less than 7.7 hours resulted in increased BMI (body mass index). This means the increased appetite associated with less sleep is a contributing cause of weight gain.
Therefore, it makes sense to shoot for at least 8 hours of sleep per night to maintain a healthy weight.
6. Eat More Fiber
There is evidence that dietary fiber significantly reduces ghrelin following a meal8. Moreover, fiber may offset the hunger associated with a lower calorie diet9.
As a result, increasing your fiber intake could help you stick to your diet and lose more weight.
7. Drink More Water
While drinking water doesn’t actually reduce ghrelin, it can help you feel more full. Most likely a result of your stomach wall expanding.
In addition, one study showed that drinking water before a meal increased fullness and decreased hunger10. So it may be a useful strategy to suppress hunger while losing weight.
In the long run, these proven techniques help you sustain a healthy diet. And that’s the number one factor in reaching your fitness goals.
Check out my other content below to learn more about how you can use nutrition to transform your body.
1) Foster-Schubert, Karen E., et al. “Acyl and total ghrelin are suppressed strongly by ingested proteins, weakly by lipids, and biphasically by carbohydrates.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 93.5 (2008): 1971-1979.
2) Bowen, Jane, et al. “Energy intake, ghrelin, and cholecystokinin after different carbohydrate and protein preloads in overweight men.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 91.4 (2006): 1477-1483.
3) Lucidi, Paola, et al. “Ghrelin is not necessary for adequate hormonal counterregulation of insulin-induced hypoglycemia.” Diabetes 51.10 (2002): 2911-2914.
4) Borghouts, L. B., and H. A. Keizer. “Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review.” International journal of sports medicine 21.01 (2000): 1-12.
5) Oliver, Georgina, and Jane Wardle. “Perceived effects of stress on food choice.” Physiology & behavior 66.3 (1999): 511-515.
6) Chuang, Jen-Chieh, et al. “Ghrelin mediates stress-induced food-reward behavior in mice.” The Journal of clinical investigation 121.7 (2011): 2684-2692.
7) Taheri, Shahrad, et al. “Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index.” PLoS medicine 1.3 (2004).
8) Gruendel, Sindy, et al. “Carob pulp preparation rich in insoluble dietary fiber and polyphenols enhances lipid oxidation and lowers postprandial acylated ghrelin in humans.” The Journal of nutrition 136.6 (2006): 1533-1538.
9) Pasman, W. J., et al. “Effect of one week of fibre supplementation on hunger and satiety ratings and energy intake.” Appetite 29.1 (1997): 77-87.
10) Corney, Robert A., Caroline Sunderland, and Lewis J. James. “Immediate pre-meal water ingestion decreases voluntary food intake in lean young males.” European journal of nutrition 55.2 (2016): 815-819.