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WHY DO YOU CRAVE CARBOHYDRATES?

by Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE, Registered Dietician,

Certified Diabetes Educator, OBGYN.net Editorial Advisor
Are you one of those people who think about raiding the vending machine at 4 pm? Sugar on the brain? Are pasta and bread two of your favorite foods? Do you find it hard to have just one chip or one cookie? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone!
“How can I control my cravings for carbs” is one of the most common questions I get asked in my private practice. Let me start by telling you that you are not alone. Carb cravings are very common. The good news is that there is usually a reason as to why you are craving carbs. By making some changes in what and when you eat, you may be able to at least lessen these cravings.

Common causes of carb cravings:

  1. 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.
  2. Consuming too many processed low fiber carbs. Foods such as white rice, white bread, sweets and other sugary food 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 overdulge in fat as loaded with calories. I will talk more about how fat you should eat a day in a later post.
  5. Taking your caloric intake too low. When your consume too few calories, your hypothalmus produces extra NPY (neuropeptide Y), a chemical messenger that encourages you to eat more carbohydrates. In addition, the hypothalmus 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 neuropeptide Y, which as I previously discussed, can increase cravings for sweet or starchy foods.
  9. 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.

So now that you have some ideas as to why you have carb cravings, you can take a look at your diet and come up with a plan as to what you need to work on.
Martha McKittrick is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She specializes in weight control, cardiovascular health, polycystic ovarian syndrome, diabetes, sports nutrition, and preventive nutrition. A staff dietitian at The New York Presbyterian Hospital for the past 24 years, she also counsels clients privately and is a consultant to physicians, health clubs, and corporations.
Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE
Martha’s website: www.martha-nutritioonist.com
Martha’s blog: www.citygirlbites.com/blog

Reproduced with permission

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