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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