Advocates of the “carbohydrates make you fat” theory talk about the addictive quality of carbohydrates as one reason people should stay away from them. Carbohydrate-rich natural foods are not addictive. Think about it – have you ever heard someone say they are addicted to rice or lettuce or beans or apples? No! What people are addicted to is refined carbohydrate foods – those that contain sugar or its equivalent, such as the enriched flour in white bread. Additionally, most of these foods contain a large amount of fat, and it is the combination of these ingredients, according to Dr. Neal Barnard, that has an opiate-like effect on the brain. Dr. Barnard describes the addictive qualities of some foods in his book, Breaking the Food Seduction.
Brain cells have opiate receptors. When you exercise, your body manufactures endorphins, which are similar in structure chemically to heroin and morphine. Endorphins serve as painkillers and, when they attach to the receptor sites in your brain cells, produce the feelings of pleasure we call “runners high”.
Sugar produces the same effect, and this effect can take place even in babies.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University tested the effects of sugar on babies who were 1-3 days old. The babies were placed in their bassinets for 5 minutes and when they began to fuss, were given either a tiny amount of sugar in water, or just plain water by dribbling the fluid into the mouth with a syringe. Immediately, the sugar water stopped the babies from crying, while the plain water had no effect. (Smith et al, “Orally mediated sources of calming in 1-3 day old infants”, Devel Psychol 1990;26:731-7).
Hospitals have known about the calming effect of sugar for many years. When blood samples are taken using a heel stick, a little sugar given to the baby has a calming effect. The same is true for babies undergoing circumcision.
Additionally, researchers have proven that refined sugar is an appetite stimulant. It is difficult to eat small amounts of it – once you have some, usually you want more and more of it. This is why children will eat as much cereal as you will allow and why you can’t just eat 2 Oreo cookies and put away the bag. And, again, why it is so important to get these foods out of your diet, rather than to try to eat small amounts of them every day in order to lose weight or to improve your health. A daily dose of it will just make you want more and more!
When listening to health experts talk about carbohydrates, it is important to differentiate between refined carbohydrates and those found in whole, natural foods!