Feel like you can’t be left alone with a box of cereal or a bag of candy? You’re not alone. From cookies to fresh bread to bowls of pasta, carbs are pretty damn fantastic. But if you feel like you can’t be trusted around them, you may be asking yourself, “Could I be addicted to carbs?”
First, can we take a moment to talk about what carbs are? They are a macronutrient, and along with protein and fat, they make up the basics of our food. In today’s weight loss obsessed world, carbs are often misaligned with being “bad” or something that should be avoided altogether. But carbohydrates are very useful to our body. Outside of giving us energy, when consumed in the correct amount they help to regulate our metabolism, and along with protein and fat, strengthen our immune system, promote healing and recovery, bone and tissue growth, and joint fluidity.
Consuming carbohydrates in your diet is not “bad,” but when we consume too many of the wrong type of carbs weight gain and disease progression (like metabolic syndrome or Type 2 diabetes) can ensue.
Carbs are classified by their structure. “Free sugars” refers to a group of carbs that can be further broken down into these subcategories:
The second type of classification is known as polysaccharides (aka complex carbohydrates), which really is an umbrella term for any carbohydrate that has lots of sugar molecules linked together. Unlike free sugars, complex carbs take a lot of time and energy for the body to digest. This means the sugars are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream, keeping your blood sugar more balanced and you feeling satiated longer.
If you feel like you can’t quit carbs, the issue might be sugar. When it comes to processed foods, sugar and refined grains (which basically act like sugar to the body) are everywhere, even in foods that you may not expect like pasta sauce or yogurt.
When simple (or free) sugars are found in nature, like in fruits, veggies or natural sweeteners, they contain fibre, vitamins, minerals and enzymes that not only help our body metabolize the sugar but also help to control our blood sugar and regulate our satiety.
When we strip our food of these valuable co-factors, we miss out on food’s inherent mechanisms to keep us healthy.
Genetically we are predisposed to like sweetness – it’s what helped keep us alive when we didn’t know if a berry was safe or poisonous.
Today’s food manufacturers know the alluring nature of sugar. In his 2013 book “Salt Sugar Fat,” author Michael Moss describes to us what is known as the ‘bliss point’: the exact level of sweetness (along with fat or salt) that will leave people craving more. It’s a science, full of math and charts that companies use to give a food ‘crave-worthy’ status.
Sugar is so pervasive in processed foods that you may not even know that you are eating it. Here are just some of the names that sugar goes by:
While the topic is still controversial, scientists have conducted some interesting work showing that sugar can be as addictive as cocaine and is often associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Take this one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers wanted to see the effects that consuming a fast-absorbing, sugary beverage would have on an area of the brain known to be involved with emotions and addiction (the nucleus accumbens). After drinking the beverage, and experiencing the subsequent sugar crash, researchers could see that activation of this area of the brain was intense, as were reported feelings of greater hunger. What’s interesting is that other participants given a similar shake (equivalent in calories, similar ingredients but slower-acting carbs) did not experience the same effect.
So, what to do if you think you might just be addicted to carbs, sweets and treats? Here are the expert tips we use in #ReflexNation
If you’ve got more health and nutrition questions, give us a shout. We’d love to hear how you #StrikeSugar and deal with carb cravings. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We are #ReflexNation.
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