March 10, 2013 at 9:36 AM ET
Nibble on this: Very small snacks are just as hunger-quashing as large between-meal binges, according to a new report from Dutch and American researchers.
The study team recruited 104 people and offered each a mid-afternoon snack of potato chips, pie, or chocolate. Those snacks ranged in size from tiny (roughly .4 ounces, or one bite of apple pie) to huge (more than 7 ounces, or two full slices of pie). The researchers also measured the participants' hunger levels before and 15 minutes after snacking. (What foods should you avoid? Start with these 25 New "Healthy" Foods That Aren't.)
Here's what they found out: While the large-portion group consumed 77 percent more food (roughly 103 more calories), hunger levels and snack satisfaction were essentially even among all participants 15 minutes after eating. Put simply, small snacks were just as effective as large snacks at curbing appetite in the short-term, says Ellen van Kleef, an assistant professor of consumer behavior at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who helped conduct the study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
Most people know everything from your plate size to your stress level can affect how hungry you feel. Why is that? "Hunger is only weakly associated with how much you actually eat," van Kleef says. She says your mind, not your stomach, usually dictates how hungry you feel.
In the middle of the afternoon, when you've gone several hours without eating, your mind starts to goose your appetite--even if your body doesn't really need more fuel, van Kleef says. But popping a small snack and giving your brain 15 minutes to chill out is often enough to satisfy your hunger pangs, adds Brian Wansink of Cornell University, who also worked on the study. (Want must-have nutrition info, food swaps, and breaking health findings delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Eat This, Not That! newsletter.)
Give the study findings a try by cutting your normal snack in half. You'll likely feel just as full 15 minutes later, van Kleef says. Need a good starting point? Here are our picks for the healthiest snacks for men.