Medical Questions > Conditions and Diseases > Hypoglycemia Forum

Complex carbs vs. Simple Carbs ?

I have been feeling great when I eat chicken + beans w/ no breads/starches. The only bread I eat in the morning is 2 slices of very high fiber bread with 4 eggs. I can tolerate it just fine, as well as the beans for lunch. But after I was feeling back to my old self, after a week of doing low carb high protein, i went and got deep dish pizza and had about 4 slices. About 12 hours later I felt exactly like I did when my symptoms were at their worst - light headed, dizzy, tingling in hands, can't focus, feel like my brain is going dead. This lasted for almost the entire day.

I went back to my regular diet but then last night I had mexican food - 2 burritos (2 flour tortillas). I reacted to this in about 15-20min and had the same feelings for about 4-5 hours. It went away much faster.

Yet I can eat half or all of a banana, or go get ice cream with my friends and not have the same feeling.

So my question is - why do all the hypoglycemia websites say to avoid simple sugars and to embrace complex carbs like starchy stuff? Why am I reacting to anything starchy but ice cream doesn't really bother me a whole lot?
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replied May 25th, 2008
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I'm the same way. In theory, complex carbohydrates should be better as they take much longer to break down into glucose - where simple carbohydrates can be absorbed very quickly the shorter chain sugars they contain. But in reality, complex carbohydrates can be more of a problem for people with this condition, which is confusing for doctors. The exact cause of reactive hypoglycemia is still up for debate and as I said elsewhere, a lot of doctors still don't recognise hypoglycemia in non diabetics.


Now, it's true that complex carbohydrates take longer to break down into glucose and so don't cause the insulin spike (when eaten in moderation) that glucose itself would - therefor you should, in theory, find that when you've eaten a pizza and are feeling symptoms, your blood sugars aren't actually low. In other words, complex carbs don't cause a hypoglycemia (actual low blood sugar) reaction, as is repeated in almost any advice you find for hypoglycemia. Yet they do still cause symptoms in all those with this similar condition. Why, is a complete mystery to me and to the medical world it seems.

Some things important to bare in mind is that 1) everyones body is different, your symptoms will vary along with reaction time and what foods you can/can't tolerate. 2) If you have hypoglycemia, whether reactive or fasting, there will be an underlying cause. With reactive hypoglycemia, as I said, the cause can be very debatable and isn't very well understood. Some causes are thought to be hormone deficiencies, or a carbohydrate sensitivity/intolerance (which I have, and is the likely problem if you can't tolerate complex carbs/starches), or possibly an intolerance to certain starches/proteins. It could also be a temporary hypoglycemia caused by stomach surgery or pregnancy which are more straight forward explanations.

So as I said, I also have this problem with complex carbohydrates (bread, pizza, potatoes, rice, pasta, cereals, flour products, wholemeal or otherwise) and I'd love to get to the bottom of the cause. At the moment my problem is thought to be a carbohydrate sensitivity and so I'm diagnosed with hypoglycemia due to carb/sugar sensitivity. I can't eat carbs except for veggies in small amounts, and milk, milk is fine surprisingly as long as I don't drink a pint at a time.

My advice to you is to eat what you know you can tolerate, and avoid what you can't, because diet is a very personal thing there's no guidelines set in stone. Make a list, you know better than anyone what gives you symptoms and what doesn't. It sounds like, as with me, you need to cut out the flour, bread, pizza etc.
Secondly, don't over eat, just eat until you're comfortable, and eat regular. It's important that you don't over eat or this alone can cause symptoms.

Don't bank on an explanation, I've been searching for many years. These longer term symptoms are a mystery. Just adjust your diet to suit you, an explanation can come later.

Personally I'm leaning towards adrenal fatigue. This is just my theory so don't take it in stone. Adrenaline is one of the hormones produced to prevent a hypo in the event of blood sugars plummeting. When you eat simple sugars your blood sugar drops so far so fast, glycogen and other prevention hormones don't have a chance to kick in in time and so your blood sugar falls too low for a brief period (some people pass out for a few minutes for example). You should find that following a low blood sugar, your blood sugar will raise a little, about 1-2mmol, this is glycogen etc kicking in (unless the cause of your hypoglycemia is lack of these hypo prevention hormones of course).
With complex carbohydrates you don't have the spike, but you may still have a potential low blood sugar which is prevented by glycogen/adrenaline etc kicking in. In my theory, if you follow the wrong diet and are causing this reaction repetitively then your adrenal glands are going to get fatigued. Resulting in the symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, drunken feeling, but you won't find the low blood sugar.

In short, I think it's possible that reactive hypoglycemia, if not treated properly, can be accompanied by an adrenal fatigue which explains both the immediate and longer term symptoms you find with the condition.
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replied May 27th, 2008
Community Volunteer
Yeah, but are you eating the ice cream and such after eating the burrito? If you're mixing all these foods into the same few days, it's quite difficult to tell what's causing the reaction because sometimes, in fact a lot of the time after you start to get better, you can eat a bad food and not feel it for up to five days in some cases.
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replied March 6th, 2009
Comment on simple vs complex carbs
I also have the same symptoms as
"rackerbishop" on the post of May 24th, 2008. As a matter of fact the
symptoms are identical. I have been trying to have the problem diagnosed for over 5 year. I think my GP has now given up, I can't say I blame her. I will have to live with my screwy diet for now.
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replied March 6th, 2009
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I probably shouldn't, but I'd advise doing a little research and taking your diet into your own hands. Maybe tnake all the foods that you know cause symptoms and replace them with good foods that you know don't, like lean meats and fish/veggies.

These symptoms from certain foods seems to be getting quite common, though seemingly 'unexplainable', people usually come away from their GP quite disappointed. Hopefully there'll be an answer in future as to what it is that's causing it. In the mean time, changing your diet to suit you is more important than diagnosis.
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replied July 14th, 2009
Same problem here.
Complex Carbs cause Hypoglycemia in me. It also causes me to overeat. Once I start eating complex carbohydrates I get even more hungry. Simple sugars like fructose and disacharides like normal sugar do not cause these kinds of problems. I feel satisfied after eating only a small amounts.... So I say screw general recommendations and just eat what makes you feel good. Eventhough I would really like to know what is causing this in me, but I doubt doctors will have an answer. Most of the time they are completely clueless.
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replied July 14th, 2009
Community Volunteer
If you do have hypoglycemia you're just temporarily masking the symptoms. Complex carbs are likely fixing you, if you feel worse when you eat them that's a sign. The fact that they're causing you to overeat is another sign, it's your brain revolting and trying to get you to take the easy path, it doesn't care about how you feel down the road because it functions on a 'now' basis. There was a woman on here who had the same opinion as you, and one day it hit her like a sledgehammer and she almost wrecked her car.
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replied September 20th, 2009
GSDs & carbohydrate metabolism
Hypoglycemia as an adult, in the absence of diabetes, is most likely caused by one of the inborn errors of carbohydrate metabolism, such as glycogen storage diseases, fructose intolerance, etc. Look these up. They are just now coming to be understood more by doctors. They are hard to tease out, but worth understanding. Ask your doctor to do more extensive testing. Just saying you have hypoglycemia as an adult, is a cop-out to getting to the root of your problem. To your health!
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replied September 23rd, 2009
Sometimes I find food combinations are important. If I mix proteins with carbs the I react better to them than if I just have carbs alone - so ice cream may be okay because it has protein and normally not a huge amount of sugar, depending on the one you have.
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replied December 4th, 2009
Dude you probably have celiac's disease which is characterized by pain or discomfort when eating gluten. You should go to your doctor and talk to them about how you feel when you eat regular breads and flours and how it is affecting you and ask to be tested for celiac's disease. Basically you most likely have a gluten alergy and the only way to get rid of it is by a lifelong gluten free diet
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replied December 14th, 2009
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That's funny, I tested negative for that years ago. Like most of the people here. That's one of the first things most doctors test for now because of its rise in recognition. Thanks for the tip, buddy.
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replied December 8th, 2010
Coeliac disease and hypoglycaemia
I had severe mid-morning hypoglycaemia for 25 years, YES I DID SAY 25 YEARS. Then I was diagnosed with coeliac disease. After less than a year on the diet the hypoglycaemia vanished completely! It has never returned.
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replied January 1st, 2011
I have controlled my hypoglycemia for 30 years with a low carbohydrate diet. I, for the most part, cut out all bulk forms of sugar and complex carbohydrate, and am careful with my intake of fruit and vegetables.

I do, however, push the envelope on occasions, usually with a bit of a carbohydrate binge. What I have found is that individual components of a diet can not be taken in isolation - carbohydrate is not always equal.

If, for instance, the carbohydrate is coated with fat, it appears to be less damaging - so chocolate and icecream are better than a slice of bread, and fried potato is better than mashed potato.

An additional complication is that many low GI foods are high in phytic acid, and rely on this anti-nutrient for their low GI rating (whole grains, peanuts and beans top the list.) Phytic acid, however, along with the high lectin content in these same foods, will irritate the gut and cause inflammation. This in turn will cause an adrenaline peak, followed by poor glycemic control.

In summary, complex carbs. are just as bad for the hypoglycemic as sugars (and the portion is often larger.) Stick rather to a diet which derives most of your energy from fats.
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replied December 31st, 2012
Hyperglycemic reaction to large amount of carbs
I have been a type II diabetic for years and suffered "reactive hypoglycemia" on more than one occasion. I don't know if you suffer strictly hypoglycemia or (hyper/hypo i.e. diabetes,) but I can tell you exactly why you're getting the sugar crash.

I read that you came off a "low carb" diet and basically "shocked" your system with 4 slices of pizza. As a diabetic (or hypoglycemic) we are told to get an even amount of carbohydrate throughout the day. For example, I can either do 45 g of carbs for breakfast/lunch/dinner and 15 for 2-3 snacks in between, but I typically do 30 g of carbs for 6 small meals spaced out about every 3 hours. I do that because it helps keep my blood sugars even, which is what you want--you don't want the super lows and highs Wink

You just said you had LOW/NO/ZERO carbs on the low carb diet and then came back to eat 4 slices pizza. I can only have one (maybe two) slices of pizza, even on a regular diet, because that has about 30 g carbs in it. You're putting an instant 120 g. of pure sugar in your body (bread is converted directly to sugar/glucose, not to mention the sugar in the tomato sauce on pizza) in your body after ZERO carb diet. I think you're trying to kill yourself Wink

Then you write that when you eat approximately 2-4 burritos you feel the same way, weak, shaky, like you're going to crash-again 120+ carbs spikes the sugar in the blood then drops it severely due to increased insulin output and not so good insulin usage in the body. When you eat meat and beans though you don't feel that way! Protein digests and converts SO slowly into sugar, while beans are probably 30 g of carbs for a serving.

ALSO, I don't know how much meat/protein you are getting when you consume pizza. You need 3 oz of protein (at least) per meal, if you're male then maybe 4-5 oz protein, a fat (that's one tblsp of olive oil/oil/butter) + a couple of starches--1/2 cup beans, 1 piece bread, and at least 2 cups of veggies--greens, green beans, salad, cauliflower etc. The fat and protein SLOW down the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream as direct sugar.

Now, it is also possible you suffer from a gluten allergy--and your doc can test you for that, but after years of being a reactive hypoglycemic I have a feeling that if you saw a nutritionist and got an eating plan, that would help. Also carrying a blood glucose meter with you and checking your sugars wouldn't be a bad idea, even if you aren't diabetic, you still appear to have low sugar reactions. Treat low blood sugar with complex carbohydrates, but "just enough" 15-30 grams or 45 for a full meal.

I too tried Atkins and low carb diets for years and all they do is make you crash when you get off them--because let's face it, who ONLY wants to eat meat and salads for the rest of their lives? Hope this helps!
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