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Bad carbs make you hungry

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So, I already knew that "bad carbs", those with a high glycemic load that is quickly absorbed, are bad for your insulin system and can make you feel tired.

Well, a number of clinical trials in recent years have demonstrated that bad carbs can also make one feel significantly hungrier during the so-called "sugar crash" that comes after the body responds to the jolt of glucose in the bloodstream.  This means they can also stimulate eating, making it harder to lose weight.

It makes sense really, as stomach fullness and plasma glucose are known to be two inputs into your body's production of the hunger stimulus.

Note that this doesn't mean avoid all carbs, that can have it's own problems.  It is another good reason to stick with good carbs, in sensible amounts - whole grain hot and cold cereals, brown and wild rice, whole grain pasta and whole grain bread, fruits.  And the best have plenty of soluble fiber in the package, for example apples, oatmeal, and all the beans - soy, lima, kidney, black, and pinto beans. 627933/


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in other words.....

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It depends entirely on what you're doing. There are no "bad" carbs. What you call "bad", I call a quick boost before a run, or part of my recovery after a race.

Please could we be done with the "good" and "evil" for food? Eat foods that supports your fitness level/goals and general health. This will vary by age, gender, activity and medical history. It will be different for a nursing mother, or  a diabetic, or someone with diet-controlled epilepsy.

I would like people to have solid information, more confidence, and less anxiety about their food choices.

I think one of the things keeping me from starting (again) on a weight loss plan is hunger, a fear of feeling hungry, hating feeling hungry.  That whole self control, self denial deal is freaking me out.  

So, since you brought the "H" word into the mix with your good carbs discussion, what is your "I'm hungry and I won't take no for an answer" moments? 

If you are hungry, then you eat.  Being healthy or losing weight does NOT mean you have to starve yourself or go without.  That mindset is what sets people up to fail. 

It's very important that you eat enough for your body. 

It's not for nothing that this distinction between good and bad carbs is made.  One conveys a high risk of diabetes and the other doesn't.  One supports better GI health and lower plasma cholesterol and triglycerides, and the other doesn't.  This is all well established, it's not from one small study picked up by the media and overblown.  This connection to hunger is newer, but the connections to chronic disease and it's vehicles, are solidly established.

If people want to gorge on french fries, cake, ice cream and snickers, say "I don't believe in this scientific mumbo-jumbo", or "I'll eat whatever I damned well please, thank you very much", be my guest.  I am not telling anyone what to do, just trying to provide scientific info for those who care about such things.  As a scientist, I am always really glad to learn something, so I am trying to pass my own learnings on to others here who may not have access to good information.


Hi Penny, perception of hunger and anxiety about it are very individual things, so I won't have a lot of answers for you.  Objectively, hunger is nothing to fear - for most people in this country, as they can get all the food they want.  If anything, the problem is one of excess access, not insufficient access.

In terms of reducing hunger pangs, a few things I can tell you are:

  • Food with a lot of soluble fiber tend to produce feelings of fullness in the stomach and so can reduce hunger pangs while still eating relatively few calories - great candidates here are beans, lentils, oatmeal and whole apples.  What's going on there is that the soluble fiber absorbs water from the stomach and swells, forming a  gelatinous mass.  So, if you're hungry, try eating an apple, for example.  Or try oatmeal for breakfast.  I've had a mere two-apple lunch a couple of times in the past week, which is 200 calories if that, and been okay at 6:00pm.  Not that I couldn't have eaten beforehand, but I was fine to wait, no big deal.
  • Recent results suggest bad carbs intensify hunger pangs, as noted above
  • Some small studies indicate that green tea can reduce hunger pangs.  Not sure if there is anything special about green tea, but I try that too if I feel a little hungry.  Certainly there isn't any harm in green tea, it's pretty low in caffeine, and if you don't add sugar, has no calories.
  • Many people report that hunger pangs lessen over time as their stomach grows more accustomed to being less full

If you're not in any rush to lose weight, you can always aim for a 500 calorie daily deficit.  That will allow you to lose about a pound per week, still 50 pounds per year - good enough for most people, and since it's not that big a change, shouldn't cause any undue discomfort.



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I certainly believe in the science. And the science doesn't classify anything as "good" or "bad". There are genetic and environmental (mostly daily activity level) factors in diabetes risks. There are relative risks. There are susceptibilities. The connection of quick-release sugars to hunger has been made 25+ years ago.

I love it how you're implying that I want to gorge on French fries and cake, so I'm just ignoring the science. :-) I like that strawwoman in the corner you have there.

Well, I need to go run 15 miles now. I've had porridge oats with raisins, sprinkled with evil sugar. When I get back, I fully expect to eat something immensely bad within minutes. Later, there will be a Mediterranean lunch, with feta, olives, tomatoes and focaccia (white flour). There might be cake this evening, it depends on how I feel.

edited to add: I'm not a scientist here, but an engineer. Perhaps that's why I prefer practicable solutions instead of absolutist thinking. ;-)

Hi Linden - I am a scientist, and I simply prefer to understand nature as clearly as possible.  It's not about what I want the answer to be, it's about what the best information available shows.

Multiple large clinical trials have shown that the "package" that carbs come in greatly affects hyper and hypo glycemic effects in the bloodstream and the likelihood of developing serious chronic diseases.

Your statement that  "the science doesn't classify anything as 'good' or 'bad'" is simply factually wrong.  Maybe if you got your information from scientists (or any highly respected medical site), you wouldn't be confused.

Here's an article in US News which features an interview with Walter Willett, one of the world's foremost experts on Nutritional Epidemiology: alth-advice/2009/02/19/good-carbs-bad-carbs-- which-is-which

So when Willett says in response to: There seems to be a war against carbohydrates today, with the Atkins and similar diets. Do carbohydrates really pose health risks?  "This is a war that has some justification, but we do need to distinguish between good and bad carbohydrates." are saying that he is full of it? Who are you?  This same conclusion, as well as the underlying explanation and links to the study findings, are at the websites of the Mayo Clinic, Harvard School of Public Health, most anywhere where highly qualified people provide the information - you don't even need to read the primary literature.  That doesn't mean every blogger or practicing physician agrees, but I'd prefer to go with the experts who can rationally explain their argument and justify it with strong experimental results, rather than those who are merely highly opinionated (and in your case, snide).

You might as well start ridiculing that being obese and smoking cigarettes are "bad for you", and yes, I am well aware that people like you do that too.

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We're having a difference in opinion here, rather than confusion about interpreting data. I have no problem about interpreting data. I have a philosophical problem with labelling certain foods "bad". With a very few exceptions*.

When scientists talk about refined carbohydrates, they say that a preponderance on refined carbohydrates in a diet has a positive correlation with various health outcomes (for example: development of type 2 diabetes). There is no argument about this. BTW When I type "good carbohydrates" into PUBMED I get 4 hits, one is a question and two don't supply abstracts. The last is indeed about low GI diets (and some limitations thereof). Low GI diets have some demonstrated utility in controlling appetite. "Good" and "bad" carbohydrates are simplistic phrases that have bled back to the scientific community.

What I'm trying to talk about here is something different. I'm talking about real-world weight loss situations. The great majority of people having weight loss issues here are having difficulty with the concept of eating less than they burn, having a small deficit, being patient. They haven't completed the coarse adjustment phase. Stuff like low GI are fine-adjustment stages, when the person who needs to lose weight has accepted it will take time, and is looking for strategies to make things easy on themselves. When people are at this stage, and asking for help, the things I would suggest are to be more active, reduce refined food intake, eat a varied diet, mostly plants.

But I *still* won't label food good or bad. Why? Because you get people panicking about carbohydrates, and lowering intakes until they affect their endocrine system. You get people guilt-ridden because they had a muffin. You get people who end up crying in a restaurant in front of their family because there is nothing on the menu that is safe for them.


A positive outcome, health, is dependent on many things: basic physics, certainly, about energy equilibrium. Biology and chemistry, and how your body reacts to stresses (in terms of food or exercise). But the positive outcome is also dependent on psychology and sociology, and you ignore these at your peril.


Because you know what affects appetite? The GI value of what you eat. Also, activity level, , age, gender, weight, stress levels, boredom, being the victim of abuse, body fat levels, social disapproval, unrealistic body image, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, heavy workload, anger, fear, shame, current food intake, genetic makeup, medication, PCOS, endocrine disorders, tumors, a cold, a history of EDs...

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As to who I am, I'm someone who knows that constructive criticism and peer validation is the basis of science. I'm also the kind of person who wants the methods that work in solving problems, for the greatest number of people. Fostering food fears is not conducive to mental or physical health. People should be well-informed, and supported in all facets of their journey to good nutrition and an active life.


I'm also the person whose run turned to 18 miles, and who didn't have sachets of "bad carbs" on them, and who suffered as a result. The 6 jellybeans that I had were insufficiently bad to support my workout.


Thank you for sharing this paper! I like reading scientific papers and I'm glad (and kind of surprised, honestly) to find some recommended on this site!



Absolutely loving this debate. Linden, was the extra distance you did running rings around barry_j, by any chance? Wink

Maybe this will will help explain things:

When I was 260lb, eating a king-size Snickers bar in one hand, controlling the TV remote in the other, and sitting on the couch for 9 consecutive hours = Bad carbs

When I was 180 lbs (years and years ago), riding double-centuries and trying not to bonk while eating a King-Size Snickers bar = Good carbs


Original Post by tmartinez2000:

Maybe this will will help explain things:

When I was 260lb, eating a king-size Snickers bar in one hand, controlling the TV remote in the other, and sitting on the couch for 9 consecutive hours = Bad carbs

When I was 180 lbs (years and years ago), riding double-centuries and trying not to bonk while eating a King-Size Snickers bar = Good carbs



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Original Post by mrswilsonscat:

Absolutely loving this debate. Linden, was the extra distance you did running rings around barry_j, by any chance? Wink

That took 3 jelly beans' worth of calories. :-)


And tmartinez. That's exactly it.

Oct 02 2013 18:30
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tmartinez2000 you've just explained the theory of carb relativity.

Which Gary Taubes and the other Atkins true believers will never be able to comprehend.

I thought that the standard fuel for bikers was pizza and pasta the night before to point of near suffocation, and chocolate milk at the end of the ride. I can see where a Snickers or two might fit in though. Load the glycogen, deplete the glycogen, then reload.

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