What is the leptin diet, and are there really any leptin-boosting foods? Leptin is often called the "satiety hormone" and plays an important role in regulating appetite weight.
Higher levels of adipose tissue (body fat) cause increased production of leptin, which can lead to leptin resistance over time. When leptin resistance occurs, the brain no longer recognizes and responds to leptin's signals effectively. As a result, individuals may have an increased appetite, constant cravings, and difficulty shedding excess pounds.
The "Leptin Diet" has recently gained attention as a way to improve leptin levels for weight management goals. The diet focuses on adding specific foods that supposedly boost leptin levels.
In this article, you’ll learn everything there is to know about the Leptin Diet and explore whether there are foods that can help boost leptin levels naturally.
What is Leptin?
Leptin is mainly produced by fat cells in the adipose tissue. It acts as a messenger that communicates with the hypothalamus in the brain to control energy balance. The main role of leptin is to let the brain know when you’ve eaten enough food and need to stop eating.
When fat cells release leptin into the bloodstream, it travels to the brain and binds to receptors in the hypothalamus, signaling that we have enough energy stores and can stop eating. Essentially, leptin acts as a natural regulator of body weight by managing hunger and energy expenditure.1
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more: </strong> <a href="/blog/leptin-resistance-symptoms">Leptin & Leptin Resistance Explained: Symptoms and Treatment</a>.</p>
Leptin vs. Ghrelin
Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones involved in regulating appetite and body weight. While both hormones are responsible for signaling hunger and fullness to the brain, they have distinct functions and act in opposition.
While leptin is known as the “satiety hormone,” ghrelin is known as the "hunger hormone."
Ghrelin is mainly produced in the stomach and small intestine. Its job is to stimulate appetite and increase food intake. Ghrelin levels increase when the stomach is empty and decrease after a meal. This hormone signals to the brain that there is an energy deficit, triggering feelings of hunger and driving you to seek out food.2
Leptin and ghrelin work together as a yin-yang duo, with opposite jobs in appetite regulation. Leptin signals satiety, decreasing hunger and reducing food intake, while ghrelin stimulates appetite, causing you to eat more.
When leptin levels are high, there are more than enough energy stores, leading to decreased ghrelin production and reduced hunger. Low leptin levels indicate a need for energy, which stimulates ghrelin production and increases appetite.3
Several things can disrupt the balance between leptin and ghrelin. Leptin resistance occurs when the brain becomes less responsive to leptin's signals. It can occur in obesity and other conditions, causing abnormal appetite regulation.
Ghrelin levels can be affected by sleep deprivation and stress, potentially causing increased hunger and food intake, which may contribute to unwanted weight gain.4
While leptin and ghrelin have opposite functions, their work together to help maintain a healthy balance between energy intake and expenditure.
What Are Normal Levels of Leptin?
Normal leptin levels vary from person to person depending on age, sex, body composition, and metabolic health.5
Normal levels of leptin range from:
- Adult Women: 15-30 ng/dl
- Adult Men: 5-10 ng/dl
Leptin levels may become too high, causing a condition called hyperleptinemia. This is commonly associated with obesity. Excessively high leptin levels may cause leptin resistance and increase the risk of other metabolic disturbances, including insulin resistance, diabetes, and dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels).
Leptin levels can also become too low due to extreme calorie restriction, malnutrition, or certain genetic disorders. Leptin deficiency may result in increased hunger, slowed metabolism, and changes to the reproductive system.
Leptin Resistance: What is It?
Chronically high levels of leptin can lead to leptin resistance. Leptin resistance causes the brain and body to become less responsive to the hormone leptin. This means that even when leptin levels are high, the brain does not effectively respond to signals to control appetite and energy balance.6
Symptoms of Leptin Resistance include:
- Persistent hunger: Leptin resistance can cause the inability to recognize fullness after eating, leading to persistent feelings of hunger and increased appetite.
- Cravings for high-calorie foods: People with leptin resistance often experience intense cravings, particularly for foods high in sugar and fat.
- Difficulty losing weight: Leptin resistance can hinder weight loss efforts, as the body's natural mechanisms for regulating energy balance and fat storage are disrupted.
- Slow metabolism: Leptin resistance can contribute to a slower metabolic rate, making it harder for the body to burn calories efficiently.6
There is a lot of research on the relationship between leptin resistance, excess fat mass, and weight management.
Research suggests that prolonged exposure to high levels of leptin, often seen along with obesity, can lead to a downregulation of leptin receptors, making them less sensitive.7
Inflammation may also play a role in leptin resistance. Studies show that chronic low-grade inflammation can interfere with leptin signaling pathways. Leptin may also increase inflammation.8
Evidence suggests that genetic factors and environmental influences, for instance, a high-calorie diet and a sedentary lifestyle, may contribute to the development of leptin resistance. Genetics may make some people more likely to have reduced leptin sensitivity.9
While obesity may contribute to developing leptin resistance, it can also be a consequence of it. The resulting positive feedback loop makes weight loss more challenging.
How to Increase Leptin Levels
Dietary choices, habits, and lifestyle can help regulate leptin levels and aid in weight management. Eating a balanced diet, such as the Leptin Diet, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can impact leptin levels.
The Leptin Diet: Does it Work?
The Leptin Diet claims to regulate leptin levels to support weight management and overall health. It is based on the idea that leptin is crucial in appetite control and energy balance. The diet aims to optimize leptin sensitivity through specific food choices and meal timing strategies.
The Leptin Diet was popularized by Dr. Byron J. Richards, a nutritionist and author. While the Leptin Diet may help with appetite control and weight management, insufficient evidence supports its effectiveness.
The diet focuses on eating fresh, whole foods and avoiding chemical ingredients. It suggests five basic principles:
- Include 20-30g of protein at breakfast
- Don’t eat after dinner
- Avoid snacking throughout the day, and wait five to six hours to pass between each meal
- Reduce your carbs intake
- Focus on portion control
Are There Any Foods High in Leptin?
There are no foods that are high in leptin. Leptin is produced by fat cells in the body. There is no research to suggest that eating certain foods increases the production of leptin in the body.
Instead of focusing on individual foods, a healthy and balanced diet, and other health-promoting lifestyle habits play a significant role in controlling leptin levels and managing weight.
Other Ways to Boost Leptin Levels
Consider Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of fasting and eating. Some research suggests intermittent fasting may improve leptin sensitivity and support weight loss. However, further studies are needed to understand its impact on leptin regulation fully.10
Don’t Underestimate Mindful Eating
Mindful eating promotes a healthy relationship with food, prevents overeating, and supports better appetite regulation. Mindful eating involves being fully present and aware while eating, paying attention to hunger and satiety cues, and savoring each bite.11
Regular physical activity and exercise can enhance insulin sensitivity, improve leptin signaling, and contribute to weight management. Aim for a combination of cardiovascular exercises and strength training. Experiment with different types of activities and find which ones you enjoy the most.12
Improve Your Stress Management and Sleep Hygiene
Constant stress and poor sleep can disrupt hormone levels, including leptin. Engaging in stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or relaxing activities can help manage stress. Ensure you get enough sleep to support healthy leptin levels and overall well-being.13,14
Track Your Food Intake
Using a food tracking app, like the Signos app, to raise awareness of your eating patterns and calorie intake. Monitoring what you eat can help you eat more mindfully and identify any foods or nutrients your diet may be lacking. It can also help you understand how different foods affect your appetite and satiety.
Eat a Balanced Healthy Diet
Eating a balanced and varied diet supports healthy leptin levels and overall wellness. A balanced and varied diet provides the body with essential nutrients, supports satiety, and helps regulate appetite.
Aim to incorporate diverse fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates from whole grains and legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats (omega-3) into your meals. Less nutritious foods can be part of your diet as long as most of your intake comes from whole foods.
Heavy restriction often comes with feelings of deprivation and intense cravings. People are often more successful with managing their weight when they don’t follow restrictive diets but instead focus on adding more nutritious foods to what they currently eat.
Leptin Supplements: Fact or Fad?
Leptin is not a vitamin or mineral, so your body can’t absorb it from a pill. Leptin supplements do not actually contain leptin; if they did, your body would digest it and render it useless. Most leptin supplements contain caffeine, which can suppress appetite, along with herbs, vitamins, and minerals.
There is no evidence to suggest that leptin supplements are effective and may cause harm in people with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain medications.
There are rare cases of genetic mutations that cause very low or zero leptin production, known as congenital leptin deficiency. Leptin supplementation may benefit these cases, but they are extremely rare. For the general population, leptin supplements are not recommended to manage weight or improve leptin sensitivity.
Research on leptin supplements is ongoing, but currently, there is insufficient evidence to support their widespread use as a weight loss or health-promoting strategy.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading: </strong> <a href="/blog/powder-supplements">How to Choose A Powder Supplement (from an MD)</a>.</p>
Learn More About Healthy Nutrition with Signos’ Expert Advice
Signos is a great resource for expert advice on nutrition and healthy eating. Signos has a team of registered dietitians who compile evidence-based nutrition information to help you improve your health and wellness. Check out the resources here.
Signos CGM empowers you to improve your health by keeping track of your diet, exercise, sleep habits, and blood sugar. Knowledge is power, and a CGM can give you specific information about how your habits affect your health.
Find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz.
People Also Ask section:
What foods stimulate leptin?
There are no specific foods that stimulate leptin. Eating a whole foods diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are the best ways to stimulate leptin.
What is the fastest way to increase leptin?
Changing your diet and exercise routine is the fastest way to increase leptin. Eat a diet that consists of whole foods and exercise more frequently.
What food contains the most leptin?
There are no foods that contain leptin.
How to increase leptin to lose weight?
Eating a whole foods diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are the best ways to optimize leptin for weight loss.
Get more information about weight loss, glucose monitors, and living a healthier life
Topics discussed in this article:
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- Klok, M. D., Jakobsdottir, S., & Drent, M. L. (2007). The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 8(1), 21–34. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x
- Labayen, I., Ortega, F. B., Ruiz, J. R., Lasa, A., Simón, E., & Margareto, J. (2011). Role of baseline leptin and ghrelin levels on body weight and fat mass changes after an energy-restricted diet intervention in obese women: effects on energy metabolism. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 96(6), E996–E1000. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2010-3006
- McHill, A. W., Hull, J. T., & Klerman, E. B. (2022). Chronic Circadian Disruption and Sleep Restriction Influence Subjective Hunger, Appetite, and Food Preference. Nutrients, 14(9), 1800. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14091800
- Paul, R. F., Hassan, M., Nazar, H. S., Gillani, S., Afzal, N., & Qayyum, I. (2011). Effect of body mass index on serum leptin levels. Journal of Ayub Medical College, Abbottabad : JAMC, 23(3), 40–43.
- Liu, J., Yang, X., Yu, S., & Zheng, R. (2018). The Leptin Resistance. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 1090, 145–163. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1286-1_8
- Izquierdo, A. G., Crujeiras, A. B., Casanueva, F. F., & Carreira, M. C. (2019). Leptin, Obesity, and Leptin Resistance: Where Are We 25 Years Later?. Nutrients, 11(11), 2704. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112704
- Pérez-Pérez, A., Sánchez-Jiménez, F., Vilariño-García, T., & Sánchez-Margalet, V. (2020). Role of Leptin in Inflammation and Vice Versa. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(16), 5887. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21165887
- Obradovic, M., Sudar-Milovanovic, E., Soskic, S., Essack, M., Arya, S., Stewart, A. J., Gojobori, T., & Isenovic, E. R. (2021). Leptin and Obesity: Role and Clinical Implication. Frontiers in endocrinology, 12, 585887. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2021.585887
- Oliveira, L. da, Morais, G. P., Ropelle, E. R., de Moura, L. P., Cintra, D. E., Pauli, J. R., de Freitas, E. C., Rorato, R., & da Silva, A. S. (2022). Using intermittent fasting as a non-pharmacological strategy to alleviate obesity-induced hypothalamic molecular pathway disruption. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.858320
- Tapper K. (2022). Mindful eating: what we know so far. Nutrition bulletin, 47(2), 168–185. https://doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12559
- Heiston, E. M., Eichner, N. Z., Gilbertson, N. M., & Malin, S. K. (2020). Exercise improves adiposopathy, insulin sensitivity and metabolic syndrome severity independent of intensity. Experimental physiology, 105(4), 632–640. https://doi.org/10.1113/EP088158
- Mosavat, M., Mirsanjari, M., Arabiat, D., Smyth, A., & Whitehead, L. (2021). The Role of Sleep Curtailment on Leptin Levels in Obesity and Diabetes Mellitus. Obesity facts, 14(2), 214–221. https://doi.org/10.1159/000514095
- Bouillon-Minois, J. B., Trousselard, M., Thivel, D., Benson, A. C., Schmidt, J., Moustafa, F., Bouvier, D., & Dutheil, F. (2021). Leptin as a Biomarker of Stress: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 13(10), 3350. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13103350