Processed Carbs are Addictive!

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Processed Carbs are Addictive!

Poison or Pleasure: Both!

What do processed carbs like white pastas, commercial cookies, cakes, ice cream and other goodies offer you? Disease and obesity.

And, once you start eating them, it’s often hard to stop. One leads to two which leads to three and so on.

Refined food is cheap and convenient. That’s a fact. But the price goes up when you factor in the costs associated with getting sick by eating too much of it.

The overabundance of ‘junk food’ and ‘fast food’ contribute to the difficulty many people have in winning the battle against weight gain. Many obese individuals are truly making an effort to lose weight but are losing the battle to the addictive nature of high sugar carbohydrates.

Carbs Stimulate Reward and Pleasure Centers in the Brain

Consumption of a meal that has a high glycemic index (processed carbohydrates and white potatoes for example) appears to stimulate key brain regions related to craving and reward, a finding that supports the controversial hypothesis of food addiction, new research suggests.

Investigators from Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts found that compared with consumption of a low-glycemic meal, a meal high in refined carbohydrates decreased plasma glucose, increased hunger, and selectively stimulated brain regions 4 hours after eating — a critical time point that influences eating behavior at the next meal.

All Calories Are Not The Same

“We think we have shown for the first time that refined carbohydrates’ biological effects can provoke, independent of calories and tastiness, symptoms related to addiction in susceptible people — those who are overweight or obese,” said the study’s principal investigator, David Ludwig, MD, from Boston Children’s Hospital.

He said the randomized, blinded, crossover study in 12 overweight or obese men had several strengths over previous studies whose findings also suggested that certain tasty foods might be addictive.

“Prior studies, best described as observational, tended to compare vastly different foods, such as cheesecake and boiled vegetables,” he said.

Popcorn is a high glycemic (sugar) addictive food.In the new study, participants aged 18 to 35 years consumed, in a randomized order on test days 2 to 8 weeks apart, 2 test milkshakes that had similar ingredients, calories (500 calories), appearance, taste, and smell.

Participants were not aware which was the low-glycemic meal (37%) with slow-acting carbohydrate and which was the high-glycemic meal (84%) with fast-acting carbohydrate, and they reported no preference for either meal.

Additionally, the investigators monitored participants 4 hours after the meal, when the individuals likely would be considering what to eat at their next meal. At that time, participants underwent a final blood glucose test and neuroimaging, and rated their hunger levels.

After eating the high-glycemic meal, participants initially had a surge in blood glucose level that was 2.4-fold higher than after the low-glycemic meal, followed by a crash in blood glucose at 4 hours, the authors reported. They also reported excessive hunger 4 hours after the high-glycemic meal, Dr. Ludwig said.

“Every single subject showed intense activation in the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain related to addiction,” he said.

The results show that highly processed carbohydrates, such as white bread, potatoes, and concentrated sugar, “alter brain activity in ways that make us crave them even more,” he said.

Your Grandmother Knew Better

“Relatively unprocessed, low-glycemic-index foods are best, things that our grandmother would recognize. Choose relatively unprocessed foods whenever you can and cut back on white bread, white rice, potato products, prepared breakfast cereals, and, of course, concentrated sugars.”

The take-home message: if you want to stay healthy and lose weight, cut back drastically on processed carbs – they are addictive and literally killers!

Watch the 3 minute video below with Dr. Mark Hyman, MD to get a sense of the dangers of overeating processed carbs:

Have a comment or question? Please feel free to post below:

By |2013-07-04T08:19:58+00:00July 4th, 2013|Blog, Uncategorized|6 Comments


  1. Dania Madera-Lerman July 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Thanks for all the terrific info!

  2. Dr. Randall Hardy July 4, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Thanks Dania. Your comments and support are always appreciated.

  3. Misha July 13, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Absolutely agree with you Doc. We as a society are addicted to everything processed. Children these days don’t recognize whole grains and natural foods. They are so used to eating things out of a box or packet that they simply can’t fathom to eat anything else. We need to get back to basics like grandma taught us. Introducing them to whole grains, meats, fruits, berries and vegetables is the only way they will ever know that a burger is not the only option when it comes to lunch.

  4. Dr. Randall Hardy July 15, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Getting ‘back to basics’ is an unglamorous concept to some people, but a necessary one to many of us who have watched disease statistics soar in the last 30 years.

    Helping people fall out of love with their fast food addiction and the resulting misery it causes over time is not easy – thank God there are many consumers and health professionals who are moving the conversation towards ‘the basics’ in health recovery. Thanks too for your comment Misha.

    Side note: Just think – there won’t be many ‘wise grandmas’ to promote common sense nutrition in the future if we don’t get today’s mothers caught up to speed nutritionally.

  5. Raghav May 23, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Excellent point, especially for those with certain medical conditions like Leaky Gut Syndrome where it is dangerous to eat packaged and processed carbs. A focus on getting out of the trap of eating fast food can transform the situation for these unfortunate sufferers.

  6. Dr. Randall Hardy May 23, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I agree Raghav – fast food is engineered to be tasty and addictive, but is a slippery slope to acute and chronic disease and it can even cause leaky gut syndrome over time.

    Thanks for your comment!

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