Foods that leave you feeling hungry
By: Chef Cristian Feher
We all know the old adage that Chinese food will leave you feeling hungry an hour later. And although it may seem like it’s something people just say, there is actually some truth in it. But in order to understand the reasons behind this, we must first understand preservatives.
A preservative is a substance that retards food spoilage and extends its shelf life - in other words, it keeps it from going bad. If you pick up any food item and read the ingredients you will undoubtedly find many words you can’t understand like: disodium EDTA, hydrolized soy protein, tripolyphosphate, and probably the only one you would recognize, mono sodium glutamate (MSG).
While all of these complicated words sound like the verbal dribbling of a mad scientist captured by a court stenographer, they are all just different names of preservatives. And the one thing they all have in common is their specific function of killing off bacteria or inhibiting bacteria from eating the food.
At first glance we see no wrongdoing in something that kills bacteria. After all, most of us have grown up believing that bacteria are our enemy. Your mom, the bottle of Lysol, your bar of soap, television commercials, and your doctor have convinced you that bacteria must be killed, or they will most definitely kill you, right? And we can surely make food last longer on the shelf, and even make it taste better (as in the case of MSG) with the addition of preservatives. So what does this have to do with that MSG-laden take-out container of chow-mein noodles that leaves you hungry an hour later? For that, we take a quick field trip inside your intestines!
Your body gets the energy and materials to stay alive through food. It gets broken up in your mouth, and mixed with saliva to lubricate it for the ride down to your stomach, where it is sterilized and broken down further with your stomach acid. Some of the simple things, like sugar, get absorbed into your blood stream directly through your stomach lining, but what about the other, more complicated elements that your body must convert?
The conversion of certain vitamins and nutrients actually take place in your intestines. And the things that do the actual converting are bacteria! Yes, those horrible little creatures we’re so busy trying to wipe out from the face of the Earth are not only inside you, but they’re trying to help you!
Now, if you missed the point on the last paragraph, I’ll just have to give it to you - preservatives kill bacteria or keep bacteria from being able to break down food. So when you eat preservatives, your bacteria can’t break the food down into nutrients and you end up absorbing mostly sugar and fat, much of the good stuff passes you by.
Your body knows this even if you don’t. So you eat that bowl of noodles, or fast food burger, and although you know you just ate, your body knows it’s not really going to get much nutrients from the preservative-soaked meal, so an hour later it says, “Hey, buddy! I’m hungry again. This junk you just fed me was just for show. I need real food!” And hence, you find yourself craving more a short time later.
So why have people picked Chinese food as the common butt of this colloquial statement and not fast food burgers, of Subway subs? I mean, I can eat a Subway sub and be hungry 20 minutes later thanks to the preservatives in the cold cuts and the chipotle mayo. But when I eat a bag of McDonalds burgers I’m good to go (albeit lethargic) for the next five hours. Is my theory wrong?
The answer is fat. That bowl of Chinese noodles has less fat than a bag of McDonalds or Burger King, and will sit in your stomach for a lot less time. And Subway subs can also be relatively low in fat and so pass through to the intestines faster, triggering the “Feed me real food” phenomena much sooner.
A meal with preservatives and lot of fat will make you feel full longer than a meal that has preservatives and is low in fat. But they’re both not really that good for you in the sense that you’re not getting the nutrition you should. Preservatives make you hungry.
Now that you know why some foods make you feel hungry after you eat them, you may want to avoid them or just have them less often, knowing that a healthy low-preservative or preservative-free meal will not only make you feel full longer, but also fill you up with actual nutrition.