It's a staple in many restaurants. Before the order is made, a bowl of fresh, sometimes warm, bread shows up at the table. For many, the urge to dive into the bread may be irresistible, especially when combined with butter or an oil-vinegar mix. Yet while this free offering is enticing, a new study suggests you may want to take a pass, especially if you're trying to maintain your weight.
The study comes from a group of American researchers who took a look at the influence of the food group known as carbohydrates, which includes bread, orange juice and sugars, on our hunger levels over time. But rather than have carbs by themselves, the team looked at how they fit into a larger meal. If they were right, the timing of the bread might have an effect on when we get hungry again.
The trial was relatively straightforward. The team asked 16 overweight or obese individuals to alter the placement of carbohydrates in the form of bread and orange juice in a meal. One group would have the carbs at the beginning of the meal, followed by protein and vegetables. Another would have the protein and vegetables first and then the carbohydrates. Finally, a control group had a combination of carbs and other food groups in the most commonly known form: a sandwich.
Determining the effect of the dietary shift came in the form of blood analysis. The team took blood samples from the volunteers right before they ate, and then every 30 minutes for the next three hours. The group then looked for the levels of a molecule called ghrelin. It's known as the "hunger hormone," as it has been shown to stimulate the brain to make the body feel hungry.
The way ghrelin works is quite simple. When our bodies are in need of food, the level of the hormone rises and the brain is stimulated to crave food. When we eat, ghrelin levels drop for a period of time. When it's time to fuel up again, the levels increase.
If carbs-first eating becomes chronic, there could be a higher chance of developing insulin resistance and diabetes.
When the results came back, the control revealed the normal pattern of ghrelin cycling. The levels dropped and then slowly rose over the three hours, although they never reached the levels needed for hunger. When a person ate the carbs as the last part of the meal, the levels were even lower than the sandwich after three hours. This meant the individuals would feel full longer.
But the carbs-first approach had an entirely different result at the three hour mark. The ghrelin levels had spiked well above the initial time point when the meal began. The carbs had somehow tricked the body into believing the amount of calories consumed was simply not enough and the body should ingest more sooner than later. Although the individuals did not feel hunger at the final time point, the researchers felt this change could lead to shorter feelings of fullness and more frequent eating.
The authors also suggest the spike in ghrelin also may contribute to a lack of proper energy utilization by keeping, instead of burning, fat. This ultimately could lead to problems with weight. If carbs-first eating becomes chronic, there could be a higher chance of developing insulin resistance and diabetes.
While this study was small and only conducted in overweight individuals, the results do suggest we may want to pay closer attention to when we have carbohydrates. If we choose to have them at the beginning of a meal, such as an appetizer, the ghrelin levels may lead to feeling hungry sooner. If we wait until the end of the meal to ingest those sugary foods, we may stay happy for longer, and as a result eat less.
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Until these associations are proven in larger trials with people of different body and metabolic types, the results of this research still can be used today. Instead of having bread before dinner or orange juice before sitting down for breakfast, have some protein and vegetable matter first. You can have them all at the same time if that works better for you schedule. Of course, you might want to save your carbs until the end in the form of dessert. Just be sure to keep the sugar levels lower than the recommended 25 grams per day.
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