"What do you mean, you're not hungry?" You've probably heard this response when you declare no desire to eat. While the response may sound like nagging, it is an understandable one. Humans have a physical need for food and nourishment, so when an appetite is lacking, something is amiss...and that alarms people who care about you.
A poor appetite can stem from many factors. Perhaps the most common causes are emotional upset, nervousness, tension, anxiety, or depression. Stressful events, such as losing a job or a death in the family, can also make the appetite plummet. Diseases such as influenza and acute infections play a role in appetite reduction, as do anorexia nervosa and fatigue. Illegal and legal drugs, including amphetamines, antibiotics, cough and cold medications, codeine, morphine, and Demerol can take a toll on the appetite. Sometimes poor eating habits, such as continuous snacking, can lead to a poor appetite at mealtimes. A poor appetite can also be one symptom of a serious disease.
Fortunately, for minor cases of poor appetite, the kitchen is the best place to find home remedies to get the appetite back into gear.
Home Remedies from the Refrigerator
Bitter greens. Mama always told you to eat your greens. If she knew you weren't eating properly, she might add, eat your "bitter" greens. Bitter greens consist of arugula, radicchio, collards, kale, endives, escarole, mizuna, sorrel, dandelions, watercress, and red/green mustard...in other words, all those leaves you find in fancy restaurant salads. Stimulating digestion is the name of the game with bitter greens.
They prompt the body into making more digestive juices and digestive enzymes. Bitter foods also stimulate the gallbladder to contract and release bile, which helps break fatty foods into small enough particles that enzymes can easily finish breaking them apart for absorption. This is important because fats carry essential fatty acids, such as heart-healthy omega-3s, along with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids such as beta-carotene.
Home Remedies from the Sink
Water. The wonders of water never cease. Water helps control the appetite, especially when you drink your recommended daily allowance: 8 glasses! Don't skimp, even if you don't feel like drinking.
Home Remedies from the Spice Rack
Caraway. The early Greeks knew caraway could calm an upset stomach and used it to season foods that were hard to digest. Today unsuspecting cooks who simply love the flavor of caraway continue the tradition by adding caraway to rye bread, cabbage dishes, sauerkraut and coleslaw, pork, cheese sauces, cream soups, goose, and duck.
The Germans make a caraway liqueur called kummel and serve it after heavy meals. One of the easiest ways to enjoy caraway is with a good helping of sauerkraut. Saute 1/2 medium onion in 1 to 2 tablespoons butter. When onions turn deep golden brown, add 1 can sauerkraut and its liquid along with 1 or 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 teaspoon caraway seeds. Let the mixture simmer (covered) for 1 hour. Serve as a side dish with meat, poultry, or sausage.
Cayenne pepper. Nothing revs up the old digestive engine like cayenne. Cayenne pepper has the power to make any dish fiery hot, but it also has a subtle flavor-enhancing quality. There is some evidence that eating hot pepper increases metabolism and the appetite. Add a few shakes of cayenne pepper to potato salad, deviled eggs, chili, and other hot dishes such as stews and soups.
Fennel. Fennel, like its cousin caraway (both belong to the Umbelliferae family of herbs), is a familiar digestive aid, both for relieving stomach upset and for boosting the appetite.
Ginger. Ginger helps stimulate a tired appetite, both through its medicinal properties and its refreshing taste. Try nibbling on gingersnaps or sipping ginger ale made with real ginger. Ginger tea is also a way to start the day off on an appetizing note. To make, place 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger into a cup and fill with boiling water. Cover and let stand ten minutes. Strain and sip. Don't take more than three times daily. If needed, sweeten with just a little honey.
Warning! Pregnant women should consult a doctor before taking ginger.
Peppermint. Peppermint refreshes the palate and revives the appetite. Make a cup of peppermint tea and enjoy any time you don't feel like eating. Place 1 tablespoon peppermint leaves in a 1-pint jar of boiling water. Let stand 20 to 30 minutes, shaking occasionally. Strain and sip as needed. If you're tired of teas, make a glass of peppermint lemonade by adding a few sprigs to the lemonade mixture and letting it sit for ten minutes before sipping.
- Head home to comfort foods. Sometimes a poor appetite can be remedied by those foods you adored during childhood: macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, roast chicken, or a big slice of chocolate cake. A favorite dish or dessert can be just the cure you need to get yourself out of a digestive slump. Splurge on foods that make you feel better.
- Watch that stress level! Keeping anxieties, worries, and other stresses all bundled up inside causes your appetite to plunge. Look at ways to relieve your stress...and gain back your appetite. Take a stress management class, talk to someone, get a massage, soak in a warm bath, or take a mini-vacation.
- Exercise. Take a vigorous walk each day, and your appetite will soon kick in.
Many factors can work together to cause poor appetite. Visit these links to learn more:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Find ways to combat anxiety, one of the causes of poor appetite, in Home Remedies for Anxiety.
- Easing stress can aid in returning your appetite to normal -- learn how in Home Remedies for Stress.
- Food -- we can't live without it. Work up your appetite by reading How Food Works.
Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.