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Some people say that losing weight is a simple matter of putting less fuel into your body than you're burning for energy. Sure, that's technically an accurate way to put it, but it's also an infuriatingly simple take on a problem big enough to have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry.

Science is also recognising that there is a lot more to obesity than a love for food and poor self-control, and a lot of recent research has concentrated on factors that have a say over appetite and metabolism.

We now know that there are literally hundreds of hormones that have a hand in controlling what we eat. Identifying these hormones and working out their role is the first step. The next step is using this knowledge to identify ways that we can help people to take control of their eating habits and ultimately their weight.

One of these is a hormone involved in reward signalling named GLP-1. GLP-1 is released after eating, and causes feelings of satiety. Scientists recently made the intriguing discovery that a component present in green plants known as the thylakoid membrane stimulates the release of greater amounts of GLP-1 after a meal.

A group of Swedish scientists set out to test whether or not they could use this property of thylakoids to control appetite. The group was specifically looking at what they called 'hedonic eating', which is less technically known as 'snacking on junk food when you're not really hungry'. This is an eating pattern that has a strong association with overweight and obesity.

Overweight women were recruited to take part in this study. The women were split into a control group, who received a placebo, and a treatment group, who received a single dose of a thylakoid-rich spinach extract before breakfast. The scientists recorded the womens' food intake over the day, and collected responses and data from the participants about their food intake.

The results of this trial were very positive. Compared to the group receiving the placebo, the treatment group recorded a 21% decrease in hunger accompanied by a 14% increase in feelings of satiety after eating. The big results were seen in the incidence of cravings, which were down 36% in the group who received the thylakoid treatment. The researchers broke cravings up by type. Thylakoid had the biggest effect on sweet food cravings, knocking these down by a huge 38%, while cravings for salty food fell 30% and cravings for food that is both sweet and fatty fell 28%.

Emotional eating is considered to be the practice of coping with negative feelings using food. Emotional eating practices can be quantified using a psychological questionnaire, and the researchers used this tool to determine the predisposition toward emotional eating in each of the study participants. It was discovered the thylakoid supplement seemed to have the biggest effect on those people scoring highest on the emotional eating scale.

Natural, safe, and now proven effective in humans, it's only a matter of time before thylakoid starts popping up as an ingredient in weight loss supplements. As the research into what motivates us to eat progresses, we will hopefully see the emergence of more new ingredients which we can use as weapons in the fight against fat.

Stenblom EL, Egecioglu E, Erlanson-Albertsson C. Consumption of thylakoid-rich spinach extract reduces hunger, increases satiety and reduces cravings for palatable food in overweight women. Appetite. 2015 Apr 17. pii: S0195-6663(15)00197-X.

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