Even when you've taken the time to eat breakfast in your morning rush, sometimes you're staring down the vending machine a few hours later, stomach rumbling. What gives? Your breakfast choice. "Certain foods can signal your body to store them as fat, rather than use them for fuel," says David Perlmutter, MD, a board-certified neurologist and author of Brain Maker. The highly processed, high-carb foods that we often turn to when stressed, busy, or just plain hungry make our insulin levels spike, causing blood sugar to crash and making us feel hungry again—even if we've just eaten, he explains.
And while you're likely familiar with the usual culprits—fruit juice, soda, cookies, and pastries—there are plenty of others masquerading as "healthy" choices that can make your system go haywire. Read on for 11 surprising bites (You've probably eaten at least one today!) that could be to blame for your growling stomach.
1. Whole-grain breads
Think that 100 percent whole-grain English muffin with peanut butter is going to satisfy you 'til lunch? Not a chance. "'Whole-grain goodness' is anything but," says Perlmutter. "Bread, even the whole-grain kind, is extremely high on the glycemic index and will elevate your blood sugar even more than a Snickers bar."
It sounds crazy, but it's true: Whether it's a candy bar or whole-grain foods, bombarding your body with too many carbs will raise your insulin levels, which in turn can lead to weight gain and more serious health conditions like insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. "Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that ferries glucose (or sugar) into the cells, where it can be used as fuel," explains Perlmutter. In a healthy body, when all the glucose and nutrients from food are absorbed, insulin levels drop and remain at a normal, low level, keeping hunger in check.
But if you overload on too much glucose, eventually your cells become resistant to insulin's signals to retrieve glucose from the blood. This forces your body to store that excess glucose as fat, you gain weight, and your appetite goes unchecked.
2. Cold cereal
Even if it's a hearty, healthy version, cold cereal isn't going to keep you full for very long because there's not a lot of water content. "Studies show that when water is incorporated into a food, it's going to fill you up more than food with a lower water content," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Superfood Swap Diet. "Think about holding a box of dry cereal—it's super light. You can probably eat most of the box in one sitting," she explains. Sure, you're going to get whole grains, fiber, and vitamins, just as the box claims, but you're not going to feel full for very long.
A better idea: Focus on foods with high-water content, like cooked oatmeal or overnight oats, which have been soaked in water or almond milk overnight.
Bear with us here: Fruit juice may already be on your no-go list, but if you're eating more than one serving of the whole variety (i.e., one banana or one cup of berries), you may want to scale back. "It may have nutritional benefits, but fruit is not going to help suppress your appetite," says Perlmutter. "It contains both fructose and glucose, which won't signal insulin, causing your appetite to rage on."
You can thank our Paleolithic ancestors for this phenomenon. "The only time they ate ripe, sweet berries was at the end of the summer, which signaled to their bodies that winter was approaching and to hang onto an extra layer of fat for insulation," says Perlmutter. Nowadays, we have access to those sweet bites 365 days a year—but our bodies don't know the difference.
To feel fuller in the a.m., instead of grabbing a fruit medley for breakfast opt for two eggs cooked in olive oil and half an avocado, topped with some sea salt, suggests Perlmutter. It's a meal high in healthy fats and protein, which research shows keeps you fuller longer compared to a high-carb meal.
Yogurt sounds like a smart breakfast choice: You'll get protein, calcium, and an array of good bacteria for digestion and immunity. But five spoonfuls of a sugary, flavored nonfat cup isn't going to make you feel as satisfied as you would if you were chewing something with more texture, says Blatner. Add a few chopped walnuts on top so you'll have something to chew, as research shows chomping down bumps up the fullness factor. Even better: Opt for the plain, two percent Greek version instead of nonfat. Not only will you avoid added sugars, but it also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a healthy fat that can help promote fat loss. If it's too tart, simply add your own flavor by mixing with a bit of honey.
5. Green smoothies
"With lots of leafy greens, fruit, and almond milk, there's no denying that green smoothies can be healthy," says Blatner. "But if you want to stay full, drinking your calories isn't going to fill you up compared to whole, chewable foods." Research shows that our bodies don't register the calories from food in liquid form as well as food in solid form, so drinking your veggies can result in eating more calories throughout the day. Sure, smoothies go down easy (and fast) through a straw, and it's an easy way to sneak in more vegetables if you're lacking them in your diet, but try "plating" it in a bowl and using a spoon to eat it, Blatner suggests. That slows down how quickly you eat, allowing your body more time to trigger that feeling of fullness. For extra crunch and added satiety, top your smoothie bowl with some seeds or nuts.
This snack became popular during the low-fat craze of the '80s and '90s, Blatner explains. "People thought they should avoid fat completely, so fat-free pretzels sounded like a good idea!" Not true: Pretzels are purely made of processed, refined white flour—and even whole-grain versions aren't much better. This carb-heavy, protein-less snack is going to sock your bloodstream with a dose of glucose, and will leave you feeling hungry soon after you eat them.
We're not saying to stop eating leafy greens, obviously, but it's crucial to know how to make a salad that will actually satisfy your hunger. "An unbalanced salad may be healthy, but it's not filling," says Blatner. Her secret weapon: Mix leafy greens with a protein (like salmon, chicken, or a turkey burger), a serving of whole grains, a lot of fresh produce, and a little healthy fat (like avocado, olive oil, or hard cheese).
Caesar salad, pesto pasta, barbecue sauce smothered on your chicken—if you have too many flavors at one meal, you may be eating more than you mean to, says Blatner. Studies show that having a variety of foods at a meal can increase appetite and calorie intake. So instead of adding tons of seasoning and sauces to your foods, try to stick to one main flavor profile (Blatner suggests pesto or peanut sauce because of their healthy fats content that helps with fullness) and you're likely to feel more satisfied and less hungry after your meal.
9. Red wine
Here's another example of a healthy choice gone wrong. Sure, one drink with dinner is perfectly fine—after all, it's giving you a healthy dose of antioxidants and polyphenols. But having anymore can put a serious dent in your willpower to eat healthy. "Alcohol lowers inhibitions, so you're less likely to stick to your usual healthy foods after you've had a drink or two," says Blatner. A smarter strategy: Decide what you're going to eat (and not eat) before you start boozing, and try to have your alcohol mid-meal after you're already halfway through your healthy entrée (it'll decrease the amount of time you have to drink, making you more likely to stick to one glass—rather than two or three).
It's difficult to feel full while eating sushi, but it's super easy to keep shoveling the bite-sized pieces in your mouth. They're small, yet they pack in a ton of calories—there could be up to 500 calories and three servings of carbs in just one roll. Instead, fill up on miso soup or salad with ginger dressing before you dig into the main course, Blatner suggests, and stick to one (un-fried) roll for dinner.
11. Frozen yogurt
People sometimes think that having a small sweet treat after a meal will tame their cravings and signal that it's time to stop eating, but that's not a good strategy, says Blatner. "Sugar is simply empty calories, so having dessert is never going to help you stay full." Plus, it's another high-carb food that will trigger your blood sugar to rise quickly, leaving you feeling even hungrier shortly after you've eaten it. If there's no way you're skipping out (because let's be real), keep the serving size small and the toppings simple—pick one fresh fruit to top it with, like blueberries and peaches, or a few chocolate chips. Don't forget: Variety stimulates appetite, so a myriad of flavors and toppings will only make your tummy grumble more.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.