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WHY DO WE CRAVE CARBS?
Written by Dr. Romie on Aug 26, 2013
Mind-body Medicine Tags: HormonesNutritionWeight Loss
Photo: R. MUSHTAQ. Loews Coronado Bay Resort, Coronado, California

Of course I analyze everything. The neurologist in me makes my left brain go into overdrive. (See other blog post about left brain syndrome). I was writing the blog post about craving pancakes and the universe gave me a two for one deal. Cute flip flop boy actually texted to see if I was free this week. While he was complementing my curves and asking to see me again, I bluntly requested a date to go eat the best pancakes in town. Now all of a sudden the craving is a bit more calm (but not completely gone).

Why do we crave carbohydrates? There is sexy brain scan data showing that when men eat a large load of carbohydrates the addiction center of the brain lights up; yes the same one that lights up for drug addiction. And, yes brain scan data is sexy to me. But no, I don’t use that line with men; I have figured that much out.

I found this wonderful link on the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS Network). Here is a simple and well written list of why we crave carbohydrates and some practical suggestions on what to do about it (regardless if you have PCOS or not).

Going too long without eating. This will lead to low blood sugar which will increase the urge to eat carbs. I doubt many of you crave broccoli when you haven’t eaten for 8 hours! My guess is that you would be looking for something starchy or sugary.

Consuming too many processed low fiber carbs. Foods such as white rice, white bread, sweets, and other sugary foods are low in fiber and have a high glycemic index. Eating high glycemic foods (especially larger portions) can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, followed by a quick drop. This stimulates hunger and can cause the urge to eat more carbohydrates.

Not eating adequate protein at meals. Eating meals that contain only carbohydrate (i.e. a jumbo bagel, big bowl of pasta or frozen yogurt with granola) will cause a more rapid rise and fall of blood sugar. This can exacerbate cravings. Protein helps to keep blood sugar levels and promotes satiety. Therefore, you feel full longer when you include protein at meals.

Not eating adequate fat at meals. Many of my clients are fat phobic and will go out of their way to avoid eating fat. Fat free butter spray, fat free salad dressing, etc. Fat takes a long time to digest, helps to prevent rapid peaks and drops of blood sugar and helps keep you full longer. Of course, the key is not to overindulge in fat as loaded with calories. I will talk more about how much fat you should eat a day in a later post.

Taking your caloric intake too low. When you consume too few calories, your hypothalamus produces extra neuropeptide Y (NPY), a chemical messenger that encourages you to eat more carbohydrates. In addition, the hypothalamus secretes another chemical called galanin which increases cravings for foods rich in fat and carbs. Take home message: eating too few calories = cravings for high carb foods.

Getting inadequate sleep. Sleep affects hormones that regulate satiety, hunger, and how efficiently you burn calories. Too little sleep can lower levels of leptin and raise levels of ghrelin, which can increase hunger for sweet and/or starchy foods.

Consuming inadequate carbs, especially if you are an active person. Exercising on a regular basis and not consuming adequate carbs will cause you to have powerful carb cravings as well as low energy levels. This is because carbs are the major fuel used by exercising muscles. Your body likes to keep your energy stores full of energy (called glycogen). If you exercise on a regular basis and don’t eat enough carbs, your body will go into “carb seeking mode” as it tries to replete its glycogen stores. In addition, you will likely find your energy levels plummet.

Having high stress levels. High levels of stress can cause chemical imbalances in your body. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in your body when you are under stress. Cortisol will increase production of a neurotransmitter called NYP, which as I previously discussed, can increase cravings for sweets or starchy foods.

Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body tends to oversecrete insulin in order to get the glucose into the cells. This “hyperinsulinemia” can cause carb cravings. Women who have PCOS often secrete high levels of insulin - hence their frequent carb cravings.

For more great information about PCOS and lifestyle changes for women check out their website:
http://www.pcosnetwork.com/articles/dieting-weightloss/why-do-you-crave-carbohydrates/

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