Updated: Jul 8, 2019
3. Your Brain:
This should have been presented first in this series because, after all, your brain is your master regulator.
There are suggestions, on the internet, as to why your brain is part of hunger regulations - but I think they are missing the KEY POINT. Our society is hung up on "a calorie is a calorie." In the blog on glycemic index and load, I showed how the rate of absorption dramatically impacts insulin levels (a regulatory hormone), the ability to gain or lose fat, and the potential for diabetes.
Summary: High healthy fats intake - which are very high in calories - helps you lose weight and prevent diabetes compared to the lower calorie carbohydrates and sugars.
Reminder: Your body runs "slow and steady." Fats and low glycemic foods absorb slowly and match your body's fuel demands.
There is more to "a calorie is NOT just a calorie" than just the rate of absorption (glycemic index). Consider this simple metaphor. If you are driving down the highway and your "battery" light comes on, will going to the gas station and topping off your gas tank solve the battery/alternator issue? Of course not!
This is where your brain comes in. Your brain is not scanning your body just for adequate energy. In the car analogy - gasoline. Sure, the gas is important, but without a battery in good condition, the car won't start. Our brains, when it comes to overseeing our bodies, looks beyond calories and makes sure all systems are satisfied. That means, we have enough protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, especially "essential" nutrients. I call this the "repair and recovery" suite of nutrients. Btw, an "essential" nutrient is simply one that our body cannot synthesize in our gut or liver, thus we must get it from our food.
So how does your brain make you hungry. Here is a short list:
Insufficient calories (this probably doesn't belong at the top of the list)
Insufficient "essential" nutrients
Insufficient proteins (note plural - variety is the "spice" of life
Insufficient fats (your brain is ~60% fat in composition - note plural)
Nice list - but in a word - you are hungry because of insufficient NUTRITION.
We have all seen a very obese person. What is their nutritional status?
They are malnourished but have an excess of calories.
Your brain needs to have nutritional needs satisfied. If you respond to the hunger signal with more calories, but with foods that lack nutritional needs - you will be continually hungry and crave that next opportunity to eat. You cannot fool your brain.
When working with people to improve their health, the first thing we do is make sure all body systems are working to absorb the nutrition they consume. The 2nd thing is to make sure every bite is as nutrient-dense as possible. This applies to Alzheimer's sufferers and just those looking to tune-up their health. You cannot fight Alzheimer's if your body is struggling to perform the basic daily tasks of repair and recovery. A future blog will cover nutrient density.
Here are what some experts are saying about your brain and hunger:
University of Michigan: Hunger is a normal sensation that makes you want to eat. Your body tells your brain that your stomach is empty. This makes your stomach growl and gives you hunger pangs. Hunger makes some people feel lightheaded or grouchy. Everyone is different. Hunger is partly controlled by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus, your blood sugar (glucose) level, how empty your stomach and intestines are, and certain hormone levels in your body. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa155258
- I think they are missing a big piece of hunger - nutrients!
Medical News Today: While our society may have evolved to provide us with endless opportunities to eat, our bodies are primarily concerned with keeping the well-oiled machine going. (good start - tl)
This means that we start to feel hungry once our stomach is empty. However, the sighting of a tasty Halloween treat being shared in the office may tempt us, even though we're not technically hungry.
That's because our brains are on the lookout for energy-rich foods, just in case we need to go without later on. (oops - single-minded focus on calories - tl)
And the key word in this sentence is "brain," because our gray matter is in charge of hunger. https://tinyurl.com/y22rlurc
Wow: The total focus is on calories (aka energy-rich). I believe that repair and recovery is more important than energy - because we all have energy reserves (fat). We have lesser stores of nutrients. Our bones do hold minerals to keep our electrical system running (our heart for example). However, we really need to take in nutrients daily if we want to keep up with daily wear and tear and avoid premature aging.
Here is one from Harvard on gene manipulation, neurons, and hunger. Don't you think survival, repair, and recovery is what turns on these genes? The Harvard people don't discuss this: https://tinyurl.com/yy6g329k
Summary (including previous blogs in this series):
Slowing absorption will stave off hunger (follow the glycemic index - the lower the better for most of us)
Your brain regulates hunger by managing energy but also repair and recovery.
Nutrients are as or more critical to controlling hunger compared to calories.
Food is a combination of calories and nutrients. Strive to eat high nutrient density foods
Eat thoughtfully to get or stay well - it's worth it!