10 Healthy Foods That Fill You Up and Put an End to Hanger
Can't seem to stop feeling hungry *all* the time? From protein-packed eggs to fiber-rich lentils, these are the best foods that fill you up with the good stuff.
It's no secret being hangry is the actual worst. Your stomach is grumbling, your head is throbbing, and you are feeling pissed off. Luckily, though, it's possible to keep anger-inducing hunger in check by eating the right foods. Read on to learn about the top healthy foods that fill you up, along with dietitian-approved ways to eat them.
Sure, guac may be extra — but the hunger-busting effect of avocado totally makes up for it. This fan-favorite fruit (yes, fruit!) is high in healthy fats — i.e. monosaturated fats — and fiber, which digest slowly in your body, according to Megan Wong, R.D., a registered dietitian at AlgaeCal. This increases satiety, she says, keeping you full for a longer time. Bonus: If you have high blood pressure, you'll be glad to know that "avocados are jam-packed with potassium, which helps lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and flushing out excess sodium," shares Wong.
As a healthy filling food, avocados are especially useful when you're trying to bulk up a meal without completely changing the recipe. For example, Wong suggests using 1/4 to 1/2 avocado in place of mayo in sandwiches, heavy cream in soup, and ice cream in smoothies "whenever you're craving a creamy texture." At the grocery store, look for firm fruits with bright green skin if you're shopping in advance, says Wong. They'll ripen in three to five days, but if you need to use avocado ASAP, you can quickly ripen a hard avocado by storing it in a paper bag with an apple. (Related: Holy Sh*t, Apparently We Should All Be Washing Our Avocados)
Trying to avoid a growling stomach? Take a crack at eggs, which "provide protein and fat, both of which help [you] stay full longer," explains registered dietitian Colleen Christensen, R.D. They contain "omega-3 fatty acids, which are an essential nutrient we must get from foods as our bodies can't make it."
Meanwhile, the protein in eggs is bio-available, meaning your body can readily use it, she says. In a 2017 study participants who ate two eggs daily (vs. one packet of oatmeal daily) over the course of four weeks experienced lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin — an effect that researchers linked to the high protein content in eggs. FYI— one large hard-boiled egg (50 grams) has more than 6 grams of protein, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Oh, and contrary to popular belief, eggs won't necessarily raise your blood cholesterol. That's because dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol found in food) doesn't significantly affect the levels in your blood, says Christensen. Based on current research, scientists believe that eating foods high in saturated and trans fats — which eggs are not — causes your body to produce even more cholesterol, increasing your levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
For a well-rounded dish made with filling foods, pair eggs with a healthy carb, such as a fried egg and quinoa bowl. Eating "protein, fat, and carbs will give your body energy to power through the day," explains Christensen. Alternatively, you can whip up a batch of egg muffins and enjoy them as satiating breakfasts throughout the week.
"The fiber in oats makes it both nutritious and filling," says Wong. Here's why: Beta-glucan, the soluble fiber in oats, is highly viscous (read: gooey). This slows down digestion, which triggers satiety signals and makes you feel full, according to research published in Nutrition Reviews. Wong adds that oats also contribute to bone health, as they contain calcium and magnesium, which supports calcium absorption by activating vitamin D. Dairy-free folks, rejoice! (Related: 9 High-Protein Oatmeal Recipes That Won't Give You Breakfast FOMO)
Since they're very much considered a healthy food that fills you up, "oats are the perfect breakfast for people who have a long break before their next meal," says Wong. However, you'll want to "avoid flavored oats, as these tend to have a lot of added sugar," she says. "Over time, too much added sugar can lead to [unwanted] weight gain and nutritional deficiencies." Instead, take the DIY route, topping 1 cup of plain cooked oats — try: Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oats (Buy It, $4, target.com) — with spices, nuts, and fresh fruits (which adds even more fiber, BTW). Looking for a travel-friendly option? Make oatmeal muffins or oatmeal protein cookies for an on-the-go snack starring this healthy filling food.
If you need a quick bite, grab a banana. One of the most filling foods, a banana's a stellar source of fiber, which can "slow down how quickly food goes through your digestive system, [helping] you feel full longer," says Christensen. It also doubles as an easy, grab-and-go source of carbohydrates, which provides an energy boost, she adds. Take it up a notch by pairing a banana with protein and fat, such as a spoonful of peanut butter, such as Justin's Classic Peanut Butter (Buy It, $6, amazon.com). "This combo will give you energy with staying powder, without feeling hungry again soon after," says Christensen. (See also: Easy, Healthy Banana Peanut Butter Recipes That You’ll Want to Make on Repeat)
If your bananas get dark spots, don't be so quick to toss 'em. The spots are due to "a process called enzymatic browning, which makes your bananas softer and sweeter," she notes. Brown bananas are perfect for banana muffins, which are a great healthy filling food to hold you over between Zoom meetings. You can also freeze sliced bananas and add them to your morning smoothies for a touch of creamy sweetness and filling fiber, suggests Christensen.
For another dose of satiating fiber and protein, reach for lentils. "One cup of lentils contains about 18 grams of protein, which reduces ghrelin," according to Erin Kenney, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., H.C.P., a registered dietitian nutritionist. It also "boosts peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full," she says. But take note: As a high-fiber food, eating too many lentils too soon can cause gas and bloat. So, increase your intake of this healthy filling food slowly and drink lots of water to help the fiber move through your digestive system smoothly, says Kenney.
At the supermarket, lentils are available canned and dried, but the canned stuff is typically high in sodium, says Kenney. Go for low-sodium versions or cook dried lentils (Buy It, $14, amazon.com) to avoid the added sodium altogether. (Just be sure to soak the dried lentils overnight before cooking to break down the phytic acid, which inhibits your body's ability to absorb minerals such as magnesium and iron found in this filling food, explains Kenney.) From there, try serving 1/2 cup lentils with a homemade Bolognese sauce. "Pairing the lentils with vitamin C from the tomato sauce helps to enhance the absorption of iron in the lentils," she notes. You can also use 'em to bulk up a salad or soup or as an alternative to meat in tacos for a mix of healthy foods that fill you up.
"Nuts are high in unsaturated fats, which trigger the release of cholecystokinin and peptide YY," explains Kenney. These hormones induce satiety by slowing down the movement of food in your gut, according to a 2017 scientific review. Nuts also contain fiber and protein, which further contribute to the feeling of fullness. The only drawback: Nuts are high in fats (and therefore, calories), so be mindful of the serving size, says Kenney. One serving of nuts equals a small handful or two tablespoons of nut butter, says the AHA.
Not sure which type of nut to chomp on? Kenney says to choose your fave because each version of this healthy filling food is a good source of healthy monosaturated fats, protein, and fiber. "But certain ones can offer superior benefits that Americans don't get enough of," she adds. For example, almonds contain magnesium — 382 mg per cup, to be exact — which is a nutrient that many Americans are deficient in, she explains. (Related: The 10 Healthiest Nuts and Seeds)
Not all nuts stocking the shelves of your local market are equal, though. "Nuts are often roasted in unhealthy oils such as canola, peanut, and vegetable oils," notes Kenney. Plus, they're usually roasted at high temperatures, which creates harmful free radicals (the same stuff that's linked to chronic diseases such as cancer). "It's best to buy raw nuts and lightly roast them yourself at 284 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes," she says, "or buy lightly dry roasted nuts" such as Nut Harvest Lightly Roasted Almonds (Buy It, $20,amazon.com). From there, toss them into a salad, yogurt, or homemade trail mix. You can also eat nuts first thing in the morning to control your appetite throughout the day, she adds.
If you have zero time to prep a meal, a cup of soup can be your savior. The key is to pick filling, hearty pre-made soups that are high in fiber, protein, and water and low in sodium, says Kenney. "Choose a soup that contains at least 3 grams of fiber from vegetables or beans," she suggests. However, "most canned soups don't provide the recommended 25 to 30 grams of protein to complete a meal," so go for soup made with bone broth, a protein-rich ingredient. Try: Parks and Nash Tuscan Vegetable Bone Broth Soup (Buy It, $24, amazon.com), recommends Kenney.
At home, you can make a basic canned soup even more of a healthy filling food by adding frozen veggies, low-sodium canned beans, and pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. The typical serving size of canned soup is 1 cup, says Kenney, so try using roughly 1/4 cup of each add-in. (Related: This Simple, Healthy Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe Is the Soothing Meal You Need)
Adding fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, to your meal prep lineup can significantly curb hunger. It's all thanks to the high content of omega-3 fats and protein in the fish, says Christensen. If you're new to buying fish, don't overthink it, says Christensen. "Most people don't eat enough fish as is, so start by buying more of it in general." Frozen fish is usually more affordable, so go with that if it better suits your budget. When it's time to cook this healthy filling food, try baking to bring out its flavor while keeping ingredients to a minimum, notes Christensen. You can also try air-frying fish, which "gives you the crunch you're looking for without feeling so heavy on your stomach," she says. Serve your fish fillet, usually about 4 ounces, with a whole grain (i.e. brown rice, quinoa) or a baked sweet potato, she says. Together, the protein, fat, and carbs will be sure to keep you full.
Craving a more snack-like snack? Reach for popcorn, a whole grain food. "It's a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which is what makes it a healthy food that fills you up," explains Wong. And in case you need proof, a 2012 study in Nutrition Journal found that popcorn increases satiety more than potato chips.
For a healthy snack under 100 calories, aim for 3 cups of popcorn, says Wong. "Avoid microwavable popcorn, especially if it's been pre-buttered or flavored," as these options are often high in unhealthy fats (i.e. saturated fat), salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients. Instead, go for air-popped plain popcorn (Buy It, $11, amazon.com) and add spices, herbs, and a bit of olive oil. "Paprika and garlic powder are delicious options, and if you're craving something cheesy, try sprinkling some nutritional yeast," suggest Wong. Fancy popcorn, FTW.
"Greek yogurt is a healthy food that fills you up thanks to its high amount of protein," shares Wong. "A 170-gram (6-ounce) container provides around 17 grams of protein… nearly as much as 3 eggs!" A 2015 study even found that yogurt can increase satiating hormones such as peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). Greek yogurt is also an excellent source of calcium, which is vital for your bones, hair, muscle, and nerves, says Wong.
To get the most out of this healthy filling food, pair a handful of nuts —another filling food! — with a single-serving container of Greek yogurt, such as Fage's Total Plain Greek Yogurt (Buy It, $2, freshdirect.com). Nuts add healthy fats and fiber to the protein-rich Greek yogurt, creating an A+ combo of satiating nutrients, she explains. Just be sure to watch out for added sugars, which you'll likely find in flavored versions.