‘Quick-fix’ or true satisfaction?

man eating chipsOur personal self-medication habits

We all have those foods that come straight to mind – or create a more Pavlovian body craving response – when we are feeling tired, annoyed, upset, hard-done-by or like we deserve a treat. The likelihood is that you have a few to choose from and rotate these on how you are feeling – crisps, chocolate, cake, ice-cream…..a particular brand in a particular flavour that just ‘hits the right spot’ – or does it?

These comfort foods are seldom something fabulously good for us (it’s the rare animal that treats themselves to a bowl of spinach) and you may or may not be aware of your body’s responses to a concoction of sugar, saturated fat and possibly chemical additives in cakes and sweets.

The jangly, body-rush of sugar and head-rush of endorphins that characterise the instant gratification or ‘quick-fix’ high that you might be looking for needs to be identified and accepted as a numbing, coping mechanism.

Volcano Stromboli erupting night eruptionConsider these aspects that a ‘quick-fix’ food will give you:

  • Sudden, jangling and even jarring rush of energy
  • Immediate feeling of instant gratification, but an energy slump several hours later
  • Increased cravings for these foods
  • Reliance on foods for mood, energy or to simply ‘feel normal’

Chameleon on the leafFurther down the line you may recognise any of the following patterns:

  • Eating so-called treats until you feel sick
  • Not really even sure if you truly enjoy them?
  • Feeling a cycle of wanting, having and then regretting
  • Blindly eating without even really knowing why
  • Feeling defensive about them, even when reading this?!

The foods that you turn to in crisis may well be entrenched in a long-term ‘comfort and reward’ cycle, set up when you were a child and something you turn to when you feel that small voice nagging that you ‘deserve it’ – but do you really deserve to be that detrimental to your health?

healthy-sandwich-1689 X 1242Finding a more satisfying choice

More considered choices might provide you with more nutrients and slow-release sugars that can provide as much satisfaction without the damaging consequences. You can probably think of treat foods that may seem decadent and therefore rewarding but not necessarily in the same ‘empty calorie’ bracket as those examples above. My personal ‘good treats’ are a good quality pate on crackers, bangers and mash or dried mango. Not necessarily the top of the nutritional tree but certainly not devoid of goodness either – next time you reach for the chocolate, stop and consider an alternative that doesn’t necessarily rule you!

The Satiety Index

Here we can look at which foods really do have the ability to satisfy us, not necessarily long-term but in order to move away from quick-fix foods, those which make us feel quickly ‘sated’. Research comparing the following foods rated them by how much food people ate after to satisfy their hunger. All are compared to white bread, ranked as “100”:

Bakery ProductsCarbohydrate-Rich Foods
Croissant47%White bread100%
Cake65%French fries116%
Doughnuts68%White pasta119%
Cookies120%Brown Rice 132%
Crackers127%White rice138%
Snacks and ConfectionaryGrain bread154%
Mars candy bar70%Wholemeal bread157%
Peanuts84%Brown pasta188%
Yogurt88%Potatoes, boiled 323%
Crisps91%Protein-Rich Foods
Ice cream96%Lentils133%
Jellybeans118%Cheese 146%
Breakfast Cereals with MilkBaked beans168%
Muesli100% Beef176%
Sustain112%Ling fish 225%
Special K116%Fruits
Porridge/Oatmeal209% Oranges202%

Table adapted from S.H.A. Holt, J.C. Brand Miller, P. Petocz, and E. Farmakalidis, “A Satiety Index of Common Foods,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 1995, pages 675-690.

I’ve added in a key – those in bold italics are the better choices when you need that ‘fix’’ – try eating these when the others come calling. Cheese and potatoes are not necessarily foods that you would be advised to eat as the basis for a truly healthy diet, but they have far more nutritional value and less damaging effects than the sugar-high cakes, ice cream and white bread featured and can help you move away from very entrenched habits.