Dr. Wiggins' Diet Tip of the Week
Why Too Many Carbs Make You Hungry and Fat
Carbohydrates a.k.a. “Carbs” a.k.a. sugars and starches are one of the 3 types of nutrients that contain calories in our diet. The other two types are proteins and fats. Sugars are simple carbohydrates and are the most easily digested carbs. Two examples of sugars are sucrose which is cane or beet sugar, and fructose which is fruit sugar including corn syrup which can be further refined into the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. Starches are more complex and take longer to digest. In fact, the body breaks down starches into sugars in the process of digestion. Examples of starchy foods are seeds such as wheat, corn or rice, beans, and tubers such as potatoes.
Once the digestive tract breaks the carbs we eat down into sugars, these sugars enter the bloodstream and are used to maintain the body’s functions.
The excess is stored in the muscles, liver and fat cells for later use. The hormone insulin is responsible for accomplishing this task. Between meals when the body starts to rely too heavily on stored sugars and fats for energy, our blood sugar level begins to fall. This sends a hunger signal to our brain causing us to want to eat to replenish our energy supplies. Ideally, what we eat is just enough to replace the energy we burned in between meals and our weight stays the same.
Problems arise when we eat too much sugar or starch in a meal. Then, the blood stream is flooded with sugar. In response, the body produces more insulin than we need to store all this extra sugar. Once the insulin has stored all the carbs we ate, it keeps working and begins storing the normal blood sugar we need to maintain our body. This causes our blood sugar level to drop and sends a signal to our brain to eat more. So we are hungry and want to eat more even though we just ate! If we continue to eat meals too high in carbs, this process repeats itself over and over causing more and more of the excess carbs to be stored as fat.
What we need to do is limit our carb intake so our body does not produce too much insulin. Then there is not extra insulin to lower our blood sugar and make us hungry before we should be hungry. Studies have shown that no more than 30 percent of the calories we consume should be carbohydrates. The typical American diet consists of over 50 percent carbohydrates. If we do consume carbs, we should avoid the simple carbs like high fructose corn syrup as much as possible. These are digested almost instantly and have the most pronounced effect on insulin as I described above. Certain vegetables like potatoes, rice and corn are loaded with starch and should also be avoided. This goes for processed grains like white flour as well. The best carbs are those that take the longest to digest such as whole grains and those in green vegetables.