You eat a balanced lunch every day—but you find yourself starving by mid-afternoon. You go out for a healthy dinner with friends—but are tempted to stop for an ice cream on the way home. Why are you hungry all the time? If you have the desire to eat uncontrollably, it could be that you have a leptin disorder—something you can affect by getting more of what we’ll call “leptin foods” into your diet.
Keep in mind that feeling hungry all the time could also relate to a number of other factors: psychological or depression issues, stress, dehydration, or drug effects, for example. Or maybe you started off the day by skipping breakfast. Or perhaps you get hungry looking at photographs of delicious-looking food in photographs (some call it “food porn”) that we see at Pinterest, on Facebook, and in advertising.
But if you constantly find yourself saying, “I’m starving,” it could be that you have leptin resistance—and can benefit from the types of “leptin foods” you’ll read about below.
A Closer Look at Leptin Resistance
What is leptin? Officially discovered by scientists in 1994, leptin has a host of nicknames, among them “the fullness hormone,” “the obesity hormone,” and “the starvation hormone.” Produced in your fat cells in your body, leptin circulates in your bloodstream and sends signals to your brain to tip you off that you can stop eating, that you’re full. At the same time, leptin sends signals to your brain to “turn on” your metabolism and thus start converting food to energy.
As leptin levels rise, you experience a diminished appetite. As leptin levels decrease, the result is a feeling of hunger. Likewise, rising leptin levels will increase your rate of metabolism, while falling levels will slow your metabolism.
A report in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism explains it like this: “Leptin has a crucial role in regulating food intake and maintaining metabolic homeostasis. Although little is known about the process of leptin secretion, insulin—which has an important role in the metabolism of glucose and lipids—is believed to regulate leptin secretion through a post-transcriptional mechanism in the short term, and via glucose metabolism in the long term.”
In short, leptin regulates both your appetite and your metabolism. If your body experiences leptin resistance, it won’t get the message to begin metabolism.
There are a number of ways twe become leptin-resistant. Besides those listed above—poor diet, depression, stress, or dehydration—other factors can come into play, including a lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle. A lack of sleep, too, can raise your leptin resistance. A study at Laval University in Quebec showed that seven to eight hours of sleep per night resulted in higher levels of leptin.
Seven Leptin Foods to Keep in Your Diet
So which foods increase our leptin sensitivity (or, put another way, decrease our leptin resistance), thus keeping our appetite more normal? Research on the subject is minimal; more studies are needed to confirm that certain foods can decrease leptin resistance. But you can’t go wrong in keeping these seven choices in your diet:
- Apples. Research has shown pectin—as found in apples—may be effective in fighting back leptin resistance.
- Oatmeal. Rich in fiber and known for decreasing insulin levels, oatmeal can help prevent that “starving” feeling.
- Lean proteins. The protein you get in turkey, chicken, and other lean meats can help to raise your metabolism and reduce leptin resistance. The same with fish, a top choice for battling leptin resistance.
- Green tea. A European study involving mice showed that green tea is effective in decreasing leptin resistance.
- Almonds. Besides the essential “healthy” fats, fiber, and protein you get from almonds, you also get essential fatty acids that boost metabolism and leptin sensitivity.
- Broccoli. Also thought to decrease your leptin resistance is broccoli, a vegetable that’s generous in calcium and vitamin C.
- Eggs. Known for their vitamin B12 and protein contributions, eggs can lift your metabolism and help keep you from becoming leptin-resistant.
Generally speaking, keep fruits and vegetables front and center at your meals. Top choices: grapefruit, watermelon, pears, and blueberries along with purple sweet potatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots, and zucchini.
Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.