Can certain foods suppress your appetite?

Chances are your weekly store is full of packaging promising that the food inside will taste good, stay fresh, and be good for you. You might also find products telling you that they will fill you up longer. But is it really possible for a food to suppress our appetite?

While some research suggests that eating certain foods, such as chili peppers and ginger, can make us feel less hungry later, these studies often use large amounts of food and test the effects on animals, says Gary Frost, head of Imperial Nutrition and Food. Network at Imperial College London. Translation of these effects to humans has not occurred, he adds.

But one study looked at the appetite suppressant properties of capsaicin in hot peppers (the active ingredient that gives peppers their heat) using amounts that more closely resemble an average human diet. Mary-Jon Ludy, an associate professor of food and nutrition at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, USA, first experimented at home with adding chili to her meals until she decides how much was acceptable and realistic for someone living in the American Midwest.

She then invited 25 people to her lab six times and gave them bowls of tomato soup. After the soup, they remained in the laboratory for four and a half hours so that their appetite and energy expenditure could be regularly measured. They were then served another meal and told they could eat as much as they wanted.

When they consumed a soup containing 1 g of chili, participants burned an additional 10 calories over the next four and a half hours. Participants who usually ate chili only once a month reported thinking less about food afterwards and ate 70 fewer calories when served at the second meal, compared to those who usually ate chili three times a week or more.

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Ludy conducted the same experiment with chili in a capsule instead of the soup, but the increase in fat burning was only seen after eating the chili-tomato soup.

“It says something important about experiencing the tingling/burning sensation in the mouth,” she says.