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Stop the Gremlins, I mean Ghrelins!

June 8, 2011

Our mission at Oldways, which we share through the Whole Grains Council and the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, is changing the way people eat. So a recent Yale University study that focused on how the brain reacts when it anticipates and consumes “indulgence” vs. “diet” foods definitely caught my attention.

As you might imagine, our brain responds differently in these two situations. Who doesn’t think about their favorite guilty food pleasure and immediately respond with a little rumble in their tummy?!  Well, apparently this rumble is linked to a “hunger hormone” called ghrelin.  Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, is an important factor in understanding why we eat and how we feel full, and in recent years has been closely researched in relation to obesity.

This particular study divided its 46 subjects into two groups. One group was offered an “indulgent 620 calorie” shake and the second group a “sensible 140 calorie” shake.  Unknown to the subjects, the actual shake was somewhere in between those two extremes and, exactly the same (380 calories) for both groups, just packaged differently.

Can you tell which shake is "indulgent" and which is "sensible"?

Blood samples taken at different intervals during the study showed that, in anticipation of the “indulgent” shake, ghrelin levels spiked, then dropped sharply when the actual shake was enjoyed. Those drinking the “sensible” shake had flat ghrelin levels—their appetites weren’t aroused, and drinking the shake didn’t cause their hunger hormones to taper off.

This study shows that the effect of food consumption on ghrelin may be psychologically mediated, and that mindset meaningfully affects physiological responses to food.  The study’s lead author explained that ghrelin can fool the body and mind so it’s important to continue to try to eat healthy, “but do so in a mindset of indulgence.”

So the Oldways take-away is:  Eat in a way that is healthy and allows for enjoyment. Eat foods that are visually appealing, colorful, fresh and delicious and you will not have a feeling of deprivation.  Enjoy a luscious, perfectly ripe peach, whole grain bread fresh from the oven, tender garden greens in a piquant dressing – and savor each bite mindfully. You will be physiologically satisfied, you will feed your body and your soul and those gremlins — I mean ghrelins — will be kept in check.

Source: Health Psychology, May 16, 2011 

— Rachel

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