Processed Carbs = Addiction

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Can You Be Addicted To Carbs? Scientists Are Checking That Out

by Allison Aubrey

Eating refined carbohydrates like bagels may stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings, research suggests.

Eating refined carbohydrates like bagels may stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings, research suggests.

Fresh research adds weight to the notion that certain foods (think
empty carbs like bagels and sweet treats) can lead to more intense
hunger and overeating.

Fast-digesting carbohydrates can stimulate regions of the brain involved in cravings and addiction, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Prior
studies have shown that highly desirable foods, perhaps a cheesecake or
pie, can trigger pleasure centers in the brain. But what's new about
this research is that it shows that even when people are unaware of what
they're eating, the intake of fast-digesting carbs can activate parts
of the brain associated with pleasure, reward and addiction.

To evaluate this, ,
director of the obesity prevention center at Boston Children's
Hospital, and his colleagues conducted brain scans in 12 overweight men
after they consumed two different kinds of test milkshakes.

Both
milkshakes had the same number of calories and similar ingredients, but
one contained more fast-digesting carbs and the other was made of
slower-digesting carbohydrates. The here is that so-called
high-glycemic index foods such as sugar and highly processed breads move
through the body faster than low-glycemic index foods such as fruit and
whole grains.

After the participants 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. Ludwig told The Salt:
"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 , 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 is the cause of obesity and other health problems.

Increasingly,
the concept of food addiction is gaining attention from researchers.
There's a body of work exploring the connection, says , a neuroscientist at the University of Florida who studies food and the brain.

This
study, she says, adds to the growing literature that suggests that
high-sugar foods can affect the brain "in ways that can alter reward
processing and potentially fuel overeating."

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