Why Your Morning Donut Is Part of a Vicious Cycle

Why Your Morning Donut Is Part of a Vicious Cycle

My solution: I don’t have them in the house–but I know they taste good.


Eating carbohydrates like pancakes and donuts can begin a vicious cycle: your blood sugar soars and then crashes, making you hungry again and sometimes shaky and tired. Such a reaction causes you to crave another similar meal, adding on more calories. Why? A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that if you had eaten protein and fiber for your first meal, you would not have had this reaction and entered this cycle.

This is because four hours after the carbohydrate-laden meal, the echo of that meal is activating regions of the brain associated with reward-seeking and craving that pulls you back to a high glycemic meal rather than a healthier low-glycemic meal.  WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? At your next opportunity to eat, you will not only be hungrier, you will be looking for more of the same—a high calorie, high carb meal like those pancakes.  So how about a Big Mac? And the cycle is repeated. And possibly your weight climbs up.

What is the glycemic index?  The glycemic index, or GI, measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. Foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food– either glucose or white bread. A food with a high GI raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low GI. Diabetes is uncontrollable high blood glucose. 

If you plan your meal and choose foods with a low or medium GI, you are eating a better-balanced meal and you can still consume carbs for energy. Examples of carbohydrate-containing foods with a low GI include dried beans and legumes (like kidney beans and lentils), all non-starchy vegetables and some starchy vegetables, most fruit, and many whole grain breads and cereals (like barley, whole wheat bread, rye bread, and all-bran cereal). Meats and fats don’t have a GI because they do not contain carbohydrate.

What affects the GI of a food?

Fat and fiber tend to lower the GI of a food. As a general rule, the more cooked or processed a food, the higher the GI; however, this is not always true.

Below are a few specific examples of other factors that can affect the GI of a food:

  • Ripeness and storage time – the more ripe a fruit or vegetable is, the higher the GI—think how much sweeter a banana is when it’s ripe;
  • Processing – juice has a higher GI than whole fruit; mashed potato has a higher GI than a whole baked potato, stone ground whole wheat bread has a lower GI than whole wheat bread;
  • Cooking method: how long a food is cooked (al dente pasta has a lower GI than soft-cooked pasta);
  • Variety: converted long-grain white rice has a lower GI than brown rice but short-grain white rice has a higher GI than brown rice.

The study also found that this repeated cycle might just be changing the striatum, a node in the brain’s reward circuitry, so that it loses it’s sensitivity to the neurotransmitter dopamine and thus increases the drive to eat high-carb foods and disrupts the ability to control that impulse.  The conclusion of the study: “This combination of physiological events maybe foster food cravings with a special preference for high (glycemic load) carbohydrates thereby propagating cycles of overeating.” 

Stop this vicious cycle when planning breakfast. Break the cycle for one day with fiber-filled cereal and low glycemic fruits. Then do the same the next day and the next, on through each day.  Watch your weight stabilize.  Remember: contributing factors that start Type 2 Diabetes are being overweight and eating a high-carb diet–those foods with a high GI.

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Why Your Morning Donut Is Part of a Vicious Cycle

Healthy breakfast: fiber, low sweet cereal with low-glycemic fruit.

2 thoughts on “Why Your Morning Donut Is Part of a Vicious Cycle

  1. As a type 1 diabetic for more than 20 years, I’m a walking science experiment, and have to say thank you for posting this simple and valuable explanation of the differences in fast versus slower uptake carbs. Even before we all knew what the GI index was, my numbers would show a steep increase from mashed potatoes that boiled new potatoes did not. The GI index should go even further though — for me the two worst offenders are gnocci (makes sense, highly processed), but also all-bran cereal, which makes less sense. And double that all-bran increase when I add milk. In fact, cereal has become a no-go zone altogether for me. I just go too fast, too high, and the numbers want to stay way up there. All my finger pricking reveals plenty, but I’m sure glad you’re posting the actual medical research for us too! Thanks, Beth!

    • Hi Nancy,
      You are a heroine in my book as you handle your condition with grace and perseverance. Interesting what you say about bran cereals as I have thought Grapenuts was a good one to start with–but maybe not. My low blood sugar issues have been bothering me recently and often I include stress as a factor there. But I know that the GI factor is extremely important and this new research, combined with habits like snacking while watching TV, could be a breakthrough to help fight obesity and the subsequent Type 2 Diabetes that can occur. Thanks so much for your comments. Beth

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