Carbohydrate Addiction and the Disease of Obesity

Carbs!I keep stumbling upon articles discussing a recent study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that essentially concludes that carbohydrates can, if fact, be addictive. According to the team at Boston Children’s Hospital’s led by Dr. David Ludwig, high glycemic foods (for example, white bread, potatoes and sugar) stimulate the brain’s reward center in a fashion similar to addictive substances that can lead people into the mire of abuse and dependency. According to Ludwig, “these findings suggest that limiting high-glycemic index carbohydrates…could help obese individuals reduce cravings and control the urge to overeat.”

Call me crazy, but I can’t help but think that this adds a little more weight to the AMA’s position that obesity should, in fact, be considered a disease because of the effect certain foods have upon brain chemistry and behavior.

This correlation between high glycemic foods and food addiction also reminds me of some interesting information I recently stumbled upon while reading Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. According to William Davis, the author of Wheat Belly, its not just high glycemic foods that have this effect on the brains reward center, but all foods that contain gluten, the protein found in wheat. According to Davis, gluten, when exposed to pepsin (a stomach enzyme) and hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), is degraded into a mixture of polypeptides that have the distinct ability to permeate the blood-brain barrier and bind to the brain’s morphine receptors. The dominate polypeptide in this reaction, named ‘gluteomorphin’, is a morphine like compound derived from gluten and is classified as an ‘exorphin’, as opposed to the endorphins that are produced within the body similar, which are often associated with the runner’s high. Investigators speculate that these exorphins are the active factors derived from wheat are responsible for cultivating obsessive behavior and withdrawal symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals.

So, what is my stance on all this new information?

I believe that certain foods can, if fact, be highly addictive and are a major contributor to the prevalence of obesity and obesity related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This means that to better treat obesity we need to remove addictive substances like high glycemic carbohydrates from the diet. I believe the best way to accomplish this is to eliminate the consumption of all processed foods and increase our intake of the fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts that have a minimal effect on blood sugar. All processed foods? Yes! Supposedly healthy processed foods like whole wheat breads and pastas generate an insulin response similar to that of white breads and pastas and their consumption should be reduced to the greatest degree possible. Wait! Don’t fruits and vegetables contain carbs and sugar? Well, yes, but they have the benefit of being wrapped in vitamins, minerals and fiber which make them more healthful and minimize the glycemic load.

Here is the most comprehensive glycemic index and glycemic load list that I have found to date.

There is no doubt in my mind that the foods we eat have tremendous influence upon our health and we all must take responsibility for how certain things may be interfering with our ability to live a long and vibrant life.

In case you are interested, here are a few of the articles I found that touch on the new study published in AJCN: 

New York Times


Science Daily


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© Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.