Craving carbs on an empty stomach
09 July, 2012
NEW YORK: A new study shows that people who sit down to eat after an overnight fast are more likely to ignore protein, fats and vegetables and head straight for high-calorie carbohydrates and starches first.
The news may not come as a surprise to long-term dieters, or anyone used to bingeing on pasta or potato chips on an empty stomach. But the study also revealed some telling details about food choices and the order in which we eat d+ifferent kinds of foods. When given the opportunity to eat a salad and a plate of French fries, for example, people who started with the starchy food downed significantly more calories per meal than those who did the reverse.
The findings have implications for people who regularly miss meals, whether because of hectic schedules or for the deliberate purpose of losing weight.
"I think this emphasizes the importance of controlling your environment as far as the types of foods you're exposed to when you're hungry and how much of them you can get," said a Aner Tal, a postdoctoral research associate.
The research says hunger influences food choices. After skipping a meal or two, people naturally consume more calories than they otherwise would when finally given the opportunity to eat. Studies have also shown that high-calorie foods stimulate greater activity in reward centers of the brain when people eat them after missing breakfast.
But the researchers wanted to know whether hunger, in addition to causing greater caloric intake, would also cause people to gravitate toward certain types of foods when given an array of choices.
What you choose first is important when it comes to how much you ultimately eat," Dr. Tal said. He speculated that hunger sets off a desire for carbohydrates because of the body's tendency to maximize efficiency. "It's a quicker, higher-energy source," he said. "You're essentially maximizing calories per time, so you replenish your deficit faster."
For regular dieters and people who frequently find themselves ravenous after missing meals, Dr. Tal said the lesson is to keep high-calorie foods out of reach, or at least make them less visible in the pantry or kitchen cabinets. But he also pointed out that the findings could be useful to hospitals looking to provide better nutritional options to food-deprived patients, since fasting is often a requisite before operations and other medical procedures.
Vegetables, salads and fruit should be made more visible and convenient in cafeterias, he said, and hospitals could reduce serving sizes of starches like pasta and mashed potatoes, "or offer them in combo meals that balance the amount of starches with protein and vegetables."