That feeling of cake or chocolate literally calling you from the kitchen a few hours after lunch or dinner? It’s not you, it’s a real biological craving say researchers who found that when it comes to sugary foods and refined carbs, the more you eat the more you want – even up to four hours later
Eating foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) such as processed carbs including pasta, bread and rice along with sweets and cakes creates an intense hunger for more of the same a few hours later, the researchers found.
Resistance is futile too, it seems. The findings published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that eating these junk carbs triggered the same reward pathways in the brain as substance addiction.
The researchers used MRI scans to look at brain function focusing on what happens in the brain for four hours after eating. They gave half the participants a low-GI drink and the other half a high-GI one. Those fed the latter got an initial sugar rush followed by a steep crash four hours later.
Not only did that crash come with overwhelming hunger and cravings for more junk carbs, the scans also showed intense activity within the nucleus accumbens – the part of the brain associated with addictive behaviours.
‘Refined carbohydrates seem to be able to provoke food cravings many hours after consumption,’ said study co-author David Ludwig, the director of New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston. ‘Limiting these foods could help overweight people avoid overeating.’
Previous research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in October last year found that fatty, sugary foods may harm the brain and encourage overeating.
Healthista quizzed Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading authority on weight loss and women’s health about the findings and found out some surprising ways to apply them to our everyday eating.
Which types of foods are implicated? Is it all carbs?
It would be the ones on the high glycaemic index (GI), the ones that are digested very quickly, starchy carbs such as most refined breads, pastas, rice, potato and anything with added sugars.
Give me some more examples of high GI carbs?
If you think of a biscuit you have white flour, and added sugar in there, but if you think of whole wheat toast that’s going to be much lower down. It’s got an unrefined carbohydrate and no added sugar.
In terms of bread, when you say whole wheat, what is the best kind of bread?
Rye is probably the lowest GI and the most slow-releasing carbohydrate when it comes to bread.
What about the typical carbs we think of like pasta and rice, what are the best GI choices for those?
Basmati Brown rice really low GI and tastes fantastic. For pasta I would go for either a whole wheat or quinoa (a high protein grain) pasta would be even better. You can get them from health food stores.
What else can I do?
Here’s a trick. You can lower the GI of your food by having protein with it. That immediately lowers the GI. It could be a vegetable protein like lentils or tofu or it could be animal such as lean meat, fish, eggs or poultry. That means even in a white pasta dish if you put tuna with it, it’s going to have a lower GI than white pasta and tomato sauce.
So you can lower the glyaemic load of something depending on what you put with it?
Yes, because it’s slowing down the rate at which that meal is getting digested.
The same goes for adding a tiny bit of fat to meals. When oil say, is drizzled on something such as a jacket potato that will lower the GI of the jacket potato. The idea is not to go mad on those but if you have tuna on your jacket potato or baked beans, or butter if you take half the jacket potato and load it up with tuna and a little pat butter it is going to lower the GI of that food.
What’s a good low GI breakfast cereal?
Most packaged breakfast cereals will be high GI as they are high in sugar and / or contain refined grains. But porridge oats are low GI and we can make them even lower by adding some ground up nuts or seeds. Look for organic whole porridge oats, not the one made into flakes as these are refined and will have a higher GI. Boil them for five minutes in water and they’re done. The ones to avoid also would be the quick cook porridges because they have been pre-cooked and will have a higher GI.
What are a few practical things we can to do get off high GI foods, sugary fixes and the whole sugar craving roundabout?
1. Focus on unrefined carbohydrates such as whole wheat pasta or rye bread. Or try quinoa, a high protein grain that cooks easily as a substitute for cous cous which few people realise is a highly refined food (it has a GI of 61 which is higher than honey at 58!). A
2. Have protein at every meal This is particularly important for vegetarians who can often be missing out on protein and so for lunch could have just pasta and tomato sauce, whereas if they add hummus or lentils with the tomato sauce they will lower the GI of their meal.
3. Eat little and often Part of this urge, this very physiological urge to go for high glycaemic carbs is because blood sugar has dropped too low after your last meal. The body then needs a quick fix and the quick fixes are going to be digested very fast, they’ re going to cause yet another quick hit on the bloodstream then your stuck in that vicious craving circle. Eating something with a llittle protein and a little unrefined carbohydrates every few hours is a good idea. If you’re looking for the perfect low GI snack to have between lunch and dinner when most people have the longest wait, ten almonds and an apple, some strawberries and a little plain Green yoghurt or a little nut butter (like cashew, almond or hazelnut) on raw vegetables all tick the right boxes.
Is there a supplement that can help stop carb and sugar cravings?
Chromium has been shown to help with sugar cravings along with magnesium and B vitamins which help the adrenal glands. These are the body’s stress hormone manufacturers and when they are depleted through a high stress, high sugar and high caffeine lifestyle you tend to crave more sugar and carbohydrates – that vicious craving circle again. The less stressed we are the more likely we won’t go for those addictive foods like sugars and junk carbs because the brain won’t be getting that message to refuel fast during times of stress. They are all available in Nutrisupport by Natural health Practice (£18.81 from amazon.co.uk)
Dr Glenville is the author of many book on women’s health including Fat Around The Middle (Kyle Books £6.89 from amazon.co.uk). Find out more at marilynglenville.com
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