Mmmm, pie. Come on, you know you love its warm, ooey-gooey goodness. But, did you know there’s new research suggesting that empty carbs, such as pie and bagels, can lead to more intense hunger and overeating?
A recent post on The Salt, which is an NPR blog that covers “food news from the farm to the plate and beyond,” cited a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which notes fast-digesting carbohydrates — yes, the pies and bagels of the world — can stimulate regions of the brain involved in cravings and addiction.
While the idea of food addiction is still controversial the study basically shows that this concept is gaining a little more momentum from researchers. This particular study compared two groups of overweight adults. Group A had to drink a milkshake with fast-digesting carbs; Group B had a milkshake with slower-digesting carbs. Other than that, the milkshakes were the same in calorie count and make.
Here’s what happened (excerpt from The Salt):
After [Group A] drank the rapidly digesting carb shake, their blood sugar spiked and then crashed four hours later. And it’s at this point that researchers documented activation of a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, a small area that is involved in emotions and addiction. “The scans showed intense activation in brain regions involved in addictive behavior.”
The idea that certain foods may be addictive is controversial. Some scientists think it’s overstating the matter. And clearly it’s not settled as to whether activity in these brain regions would be seen widely in the population, or perhaps only among those who are overweight or prone to overeating.
As Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, points out, this research can’t tell us if there’s a cause and effect relationship between eating certain foods and triggering brain responses, or if those responses lead to overeating and obesity.
“[The study] doesn’t tell you if this is the reason they got obese,” says Lustig, “or if this is what happens once you’re already obese.”
Nonetheless, Lustig told The Salt that he thinks this study offers another bit of evidence that “this phenomenon is real.” He has been a leading voice in suggesting that sugar is the cause of obesity and other health problems.
So what does this mean? Well, for me it’s reason to examine why I go through phases of sugar-cravings. At work, I can have mulitple days in a row where we have afternoon cake, cupcakes, bagels, and the like. After several days of this, I probably resemble Elaine from that episode of Seinfeld — the one where she’s jonsing for a sugar fix at 2 p.m. and, eventually, eats the really, really old cake.
I heard a dietician speak recently about what these sugar spikes and crashes look like. Seeing the blood sugar peaks and valleys on paper are what have me wanting to make a bigger change in my diet. I had planned on doing that last month, but my frustrating back pain had me leaning on comfort food as my consolation prize. So, I’m thinking of some serious diet over-hauling this month. What’s helped me in the past has been tracking my food, so I’ll be leaning on my iPhone (thank you, MyFitnessPal!) for some help in keeping up with what I’m eating.
Where to start? I’m going to try and cut out the empty carbs. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the plan.
What’s your take on this? Addictive? Absurd? All good things in moderation? Do you eat carbs or avoid them at all cost?
Running log below.