Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Carbohydrates and Hunger

One of the comments from the other day was from Cultural Vertigo and he referred me to an article that he had written about nutrition. I usually don't agree with articles on nutrition, but his is well written and useful. So when you're done reading MY nutrition info, go check out his.

I have the feel that the Atkin's kick is over. That is good. Carbohydrates are our friends. They are the body's first choice for fuel and the only nutrient that can effectively get to the brain. I also think that the Atkin's diet brought a lot of attention to carbohydrates which is good, because not all carbs are created equal. For anyone who lives an active lifestyle, a diet without enough carbohydrates will drastically impair your performance and energy levels.

Before we dive right into carbohydrates, I want to talk about hunger. I took an entire class about hunger. I won't bore you with the details, but here's one big thing that I picked up. Your blood sugar drops just a little every so often which is associated with a feeling of hunger. Your blood sugar then returns to baseline and your hunger goes away. This cycle will continue and you will feel hungry every hour or more until the hunger pangs become more more frequent and eventually your blood sugar gets low enough that you are hungry all the time. I drew a picture in paint that shows the general trend of blood sugar over time with arrows where you would feel hunger. (Excuse the artwork, my drawing ability on paint is not much better than my 3 year old's... unfortunately there's more to come).

Why did I put hunger in the same blog as carbohydrates? Well, the type of carbohydrate that you choose to eat can change your feelings of hunger and this knowledge should greatly influence your food choices. Foods that are fibrous and made up of "complex" carbohydrates have a very slow gradual affect on your blood sugar (figure a). Simple sugars that are found in soda, candy and processed foods cause your blood sugar to spike about 15-20 minutes after eating and then subsequently your blood sugar plummets, usually dropping slightly below baseline before regulating itself (figure b). So that was probably a little more nutritional biochemistry than you wanted to know. Here's the point: notice that how that circled area in figure B looks similar to the hunger signal that I drew above. So that bowl of candy that you snack on at work is going to initiate hunger every 30-45 minutes. In order to avoid being hungry all the time, you have to eat good quality meals and snacks that include lots of fiber, and a little protein (I'll be talking more about protein next time).

Generally it is better to look for foods that don't come in packages. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are great snacks (easy on the nuts, they're also high in fat... but we'll talk about that next time). For meals you should focus on beans, lentils, whole grains and vegetables.

I know that you are thinking that fruits are full of sugar, but they are full of fructose which is a type of sugar that doesn't greatly affect your blood sugar and they are also full of water which help fill your stomach without adding any calories. Fruit is generally a good choice.

Now watch out for marketers, they want you to think that their product is healthy. Generally if it comes in a package telling you how healthy it is, it's not.

Fruit juice and breakfast cereal are the first things that come to mind. Both are terrible as far as sugar goes. Fruit juice does contain fructose, but is also loaded with regular sugar and the processing ruins the fruit. There is a time and place for fruit juice, but it should not be the norm. Dr. Brand-Miller did some research on breakfast cereals and found that adding table sugar to cereals will almost always improve your glucose response (make it lower). That is not an invitation to add sugar, that is a reason to change cereals. Even General Mills who uses "whole grains" make cereals that cause blood glucose to spike. Of course the sugary cereals cause blood glucose spikes, but additionally Grapenuts, Cheerios and almost any other cereal that you can think of is not that great for you. The exception is shredded wheat (not frosted), and hot cereals (not instant). In my house we buy bulk grains (about 7 of them) and cook them every morning for about 30 minutes and they make a great hearty breakfast.

Now would be a good day to take a look at what you are eating and recognizing the sugars that you eat that make you hungry not long after.


Emily said...

Your articles are awesome! I am learning, and I love them. Keep them coming!

Vertigo said...

Thanks for the recommendations!

Some related tidbits of info that I have picked up along the way...

A glass of orange juice has all the sugar of six whole oranges and none of the fibre/fiber.

Another popular `diet food` is rice cakes...lump them into the fruit juice and breakfast cereal category.

I tried Atkins for several weeks, lost a whole whack of weight and had people tell me that I looked ill. Then I started eating carbs again (the right kind) and felt much better.

Do you guys have access to `Red River Cereal`? It is a whole grain cereal made from cracked rye, wheat and flax. www.redrivercereal.com

Maybe it is only available in Canada, maybe not.

Thanks for the articles!

Emily said...

Thank you for the information about fruit and veggies and the chart showing how carbohydrates and sugars work in the blood stream and effect your level of hunger. It really caused a lot of reflection today, and I decided to eat an apple for lunch just because you inspired me to with your blog.

James Sharp said...


Thanks for the articles, they are very informative. Also, the linked article was a good read, too. As someone who "could lose a few" I appreciate the information.

Megan said...

What about Kashi cereals? I eat Go Lean every day cause its high in protein (13g), low in sugar (6g) and high in fiber (10g). Does it still cause the blood sugar issue?

sans auto said...

vertigo, I'm getting there, we will talk oranges vs. juice. I've never heard of Red River Cereal, but I also haven't looked. I'm a student we live out of the bulk grain section.

Emily, I'm glad it made a difference in what you ate today... that's the idea.

James, Thanks for stopping by, I think you single handedly doubled the views I have had on my site in the last month.

Megan, I looked for info on Kashi and didn't find any. The high fiber and protein content certainly makes it sound better (and my hunch is that it is far better than most), but even though it is "low" in sugar doesn't mean that the other carbohydrates aren't just as easily digested (which causes a similar blood sugar spike).

Anonymous said...

This is some of the best info I've ever read on nutrition. Thanks! The fog is clearing and I can see specific changes to make. I'm so excited to see what results will come.
-Pam C.