Foods That Fill You Up: The Satiety Index

Rabelais's Gargantua


You know the saying that we feel hungry soon after eating Chinese food? It turns out that there is truth to it.
According to the satiety index, steamed rice or Chinese noodles have less than half the filling power of potatoes.

The satiety index measures the fullness factor of food. It tells you about bang for the buck: a high satiety food will satisfy hunger better and for a longer time than the same number of calories of a low satiety food.

Satiety takes into account a lot of different dietary factors that contribute to a sense of fullness.
There are foods that fill you with their sheer physical bulk, some that satisfy with taste and texture, and some with physiological consequences that trigger receptors in the digestive tract or send certain signals to the brain that cause a drop in appetite.

  • the high water content in fruits, vegetables, and broth-based soups rank them high on the SI;
  • popcorn and oatmeal stuff you with fiber;
  • beans and legumes contain anti-nutrients which delay their absorption to make you feel full for longer;
  • crispy, crunchy foods provide textural gratification.

It turns out that you can compare apples and oranges.
Oranges have a slight SI edge over apples, and both are more satisfying than grapes. And the juicy bulk of fresh grapes are vastly more filling than the caloric equivalent in raisins. Surprisingly, they all beat out bananas.

The SI holds a few other surprises:

  • While all energy-dense foods pack a big calorie wallop in a little package, calorie-for-calorie, beef and chicken are better protein sources than eggs;
  • full-sugar soda, sugar-free soda, or bottled water—for men (but not women or children), at the end of the day, there's no difference in total calories consumed;
  • steamed white potatoes rule the satiety index—their stuffy blandness gives four times the bulk and three times the filling power of the average food;
  • jelly beans can curb the appetite—their nutritional profile should score low on the SI, but a handful of jelly beans left dieters feeling so queasy that they ate less afterward.

Many in the medical community consider the satiety index to be a true diet breakthrough. The science behind it is nothing new, and it's not a complete dietary plan, but the satiety index is a simple way to evaluate foods, and it's an improvement over popular one-dimensional measures like carbs, calories, and fats. A few well-chosen food swaps from the index can provide greater satiety from fewer calories, and even satisfy enough to get dieters to put down the fork.

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