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  • Writer's pictureJasmine Carbon

Are you hungry or do you have a good appetite? Explained by a Dietitian

And how can these have an impact of your health goals

So what's the difference between hunger and appetite?

'Hunger' is a lot more physiological than appetite. It is stimulated by a range of hormones telling the brain that you need to fuel your body. There are several hormones which play a

role in stimulating and suppressing appetite but the 2 key hormones are gherlin (the

hunger hormone which is produced when we need to eat) and leptin (the fullness

hormone which is produced some time after we have eaten a meal)

‘Appetite’ is a want to fulfil a desire for something. In the context of food, having an

appetite is a want to eat. It can be triggered by hunger ie our stomachs being empty

of food for a period of time which can trigger stomach grumbling. Appetite can also

be brought on by emotions ie feeling stressed; or environmental cues ie smelling

delicious food being cooked. Appetite can also be a learnt behaviour for example,

wanting to eat at the same time each day or being brought up to understand that eating well (and past the feeling of fullness) is a good thing.


Speaking from my own personal experience, I know this to be a reason many people from Caribbean backgrounds, generally speaking, have good appetites. Having a full plate of food and even taking a second helping is a massive complement to the person or people who cooked. It is also viewed as good character trait in children and young adults as it gives the impression that they won't waste food, and will grow up well and healthy.

This we know to be a myth as regularly eating past the feeling of fullness not only can build a poor relationship with food, but it increases overall energy intake.



What are some foods that can affect appetite?

Fibrous foods

Foods that are high in fibre ( ie lentils, whole meal breads, brown pasta or cassava) can down regulate or delay feelings of hunger. This is because fibre takes longer for the body

to digest which means it sits in the digestive system for an extended period than less fibrous food (ie white pasta or mashed potatoes) would do. This means the hormones signifying fullness remain higher (leptin) and hormones signifying hunger

(ghrelin) are down regulated.

vegan protein tofu

The same goes for foods which are high in protein. Such foods include meat, poultry,

beans and pulses, tofu and eggs. Because it takes the digestive system longer to

breakdown protein than it does carbohydrates-based foods, hunger-suppressing hormones will start being produced and it will delay hunger-inducing hormones from being produced.

Some foods which are ultra-processed (confectionary, sugary drinks, desserts, biscuits, cakes and doughnuts, oven pizzas etc) can increase appetite.

The temporary feeling of fullness after eating or drinking these types of products causes a

high peak in blood sugar followed by a steep decline making us feel very low in

energy. Our bodies don’t like to be and cannot function at its best with low blood

sugar levels so hunger-inducing hormones are sent to the brain for us to eat again.

Ways to manage a Good Appetite

Firstly, I would advise reviewing your fluid intake. Our bodies maybe mistaking

hunger for thirst so I would suggest that they should aim for 6-8 glasses (or ~2L) of

no-added sugar, non-caffeinated drinks a day.

I would also suggest that you look at the quality of your diet.

Are you choosing high fibre foods where possible?
Are you having 2 portions of fruits and at least 3 portions of vegetables across the day?
Are you incorporating a portion of protein with each meal?
Are you eating fresh most of the time or are you reliant on takeaways and ultra-processed food?

I would also want to know if meals, snacks and drinks are mostly from ultra-processed food sources and if so, make recommendations to move to use less processed food. For example, replacing crisps with popcorn or a portion of mixed seeds and nuts; or swapping a take-away burger meal with fries with a quick homemade burger recipe on a wholemeal bun and a small handful of potato wedges with the skin on (for extra fibre!)

I would also want to review their eating pattern and to get an understanding of what

their appetite cues are. Appetite can be stimulated by emotions such as stress and

anxiety so would work to address these. 

A dietitian can help you to find appetite triggers and make food swaps to reduce the feeling of hunger that can lead to eating more than what your body needs to reach health goals.

In summary

  1. Hunger is more physiological than appetite and is influenced by 2 key hormones are gherlin and leptin

  2. Appetite can be brought on by hunger but it can also be brought on by emotions or environmental cues ie smelling delicious food being cooked. Appetite can also be a learnt (or encouraged) behaviour

  3. There are foods that can help to manage appetite

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