Trying to lose weight can be challenging because you always feel hungry when you are subsisting on salads, shakes and yogurt.
One solution that can help boost satiety is to eat more hydrophilic foods, according to registered dietitian Keren Gilbert, founder of Decision Nutrition and author of the forthcoming book The HD Diet.
What are hydrophilic foods?
Hydrophilic literally means “water-loving.” Foods that have hydrophilic properties contain a high amount of gummy fibers, known as mucilage. When hydrophilic foods are ingested, they absorb water and form a gel in the stomach, creating a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down and slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar. The end result? You feel fuller longer.
A prime example of a hydrophilic food is the chia seed. These tiny, black- or white-colored seeds look similar to sesame seeds. Nutrient-dense chia seeds have a high “good” fat content, including omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and are also a good source of protein, fiber, calcium, iron and manganese.
Indigenous to southern Mexico and northern Guatemala, they are a staple food of that region. It is believed that chia seeds were used as a high-energy endurance food by the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas.
To make a chia gel, combine two tablespoons of chia seeds with one cup of water and let it stand at least 15 minutes. When you return, the seeds and water will have formed a thick gelatin.
Chia seeds became the star ingredient of the hydrophilic diet (HD) that Gilbert created after she discovered that chia seeds have the capacity to absorb water up to 12 times their weight. She began experimenting with chia seeds as a way to promote satiety, then began counseling her clients who were struggling to lose weight to incorporate them into their diet.
“Hydrophilic foods, like chia seeds, are loaded with soluble fiber, an essential piece of the hunger puzzle, which keeps us feeling fuller longer by helping stabilize blood sugar glucose levels and diminish cravings,” says Gilbert.
The fiber factor: Soluble vs. insoluble
Getting enough dietary fiber is important for digestive health and elimination of waste. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Foods with soluble fiber (like chia seeds) attract water and form a gel, which slows digestion and delays the emptying of your stomach. This stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels function more efficiently — you avoid experiencing the roller-coaster effect of blood sugar highs and lows. Common sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, lentils, oranges, pear, flaxseed and dried peas.
Insoluble fiber helps to bulk and soften stool and to move it through your digestive tract, helping prevent constipation. Insoluble fibers are mainly found in whole grains and vegetables, including wheat bran, barley, brown rice, seeds, nuts, cabbage, dark leafy greens and root vegetable skins.
In her book, Gilbert refers to chia seeds as “hydro-boosters” because they can be added to meals or snacks to help promote satiety. Gilbert recommends that busy women add chia seeds at least twice daily — to their morning and afternoon meals — if they want to avoid feeling hungry during the busiest parts of their day. Chia seeds can be added directly — or as a chia gel — to oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt. “You will feel full for at least three hours,” she assures.
Gilbert’s top 10 nutrient-dense hydrophilic foods
- Chia seeds
- Okra: Its slimy texture can be attributed to mucilage around the seeds on the inside of the pod. High in hydrophilic (soluble fiber), okra’s mucilage can be used for thickening gumbo, stews and stir-frys. This low-calorie vegetable is also high in vitamins C, A, B6 and folate as well as minerals, including calcium, potassium and traces of magnesium and manganese.
- Oatmeal: You can see oatmeal “gel” while it’s cooking. Choose steel-cut oats, which keep you full the longest. Oats are a rich source of soluble fiber as well as protein, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, manganese and iron.
- Pears: Pears are filled with pectin, a complex carbohydrate found naturally in plant cell walls. Like other hydrophilic foods, pears help with digestion, lower cholesterol and regulate the body’s absorption of sugar.
- Barley: This chewy cereal grain contains mostly insoluble fiber. It also contains the same type of soluble fiber as oats called beta-glucan, which can help fill you up and improve cholesterol levels. With its high capacity to absorb water, barley can be added to soups and salads or served as a side dish.
- Brussels sprouts: These baby cabbages contain enough soluble fiber to keep us full for hours. This cruciferous vegetable has detoxifying properties: Brussels sprouts are high in sulfur, which helps remove toxins from the blood.
- Kidney beans: All beans are high hydrophilic foods. Antioxidant-rich kidney beans can be used as a protein replacement in salads, for example, to keep you fuller longer.
- Chickpeas: The high soluble fiber content of chickpeas can keep you full for hours.
- Oranges: In addition to vitamin C, oranges — including the pith (white outer layer) — are loaded with soluble fiber and pectin. Gilbert recommends oranges as a between-meals snack. Oranges are also a source of phytochemicals, vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, potassium and calcium.
- Agar: A gelatinous substance obtained from red algae, agar consists of 80 percent fiber — and it has no calories, no carbs, no sugar and no fat. By reabsorbing glucose in the stomach and passing through the digestive system quickly, agar inhibits the body from retaining and storing excess fat.