Brain Scans Show Carbs Can Be Addictive

pasta_twirlAnyone who has tried to “kick carbs” can tell you that giving up starches and sweets can be painfully difficult. Something about pastas, potatoes, white bread, and other carbohydrates makes you just want to eat more and more. Now, new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that the desire for carbs may be more than a matter of taste. In fact, some people can develop a physical addiction to these types of foods, spurring their craving to eat.

Researchers at the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital conducted a study on overweight and obese men, comparing the brain’s reaction to carbohydrates and their blood sugar levels for four hours after eating a meal. One group of study participants was given a milkshake containing high-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates, which are found in highly processed foods, like white bread and white rice. The body processes these carbs very quickly. The other group of participants drank a shake with low-glycemic index carbohydrates, like those found in sweet potatoes or whole grain products. Researchers made sure that the milkshakes tasted the same, were equally sweet, and had the same number of calories, so the participants’ reactions would be based solely on the type of carbohydrates they consumed.

Functional (“real time”) MRI results showed study participants who drank the high-glycemic carbohydrate milkshake had increased brain activity in the region involved with reward and cravings — part of the brain that also is tied to addiction — and they experienced excess hunger. The findings may have implications for weight control, by helping people overcome the urge to overeat by limiting processed foods and high-GI carbs.

If you are trying to lose weight prior to weight loss surgery — or even if you have had a bariatric procedure — cutting back on carbs may help you shed excess weight. I never recommend that someone give up carbohydrates completely; however, eating several small meals throughout the day that primarily consist of protein and low-GI carbs, including fruits and vegetables, will help you maintain a healthy weight long-term. Other low-glycemic index carbohydrates include brown rice, whole grain breads and pastas, nuts, beans, and sweet potatoes. For more tips on developing healthy eating habits, check out these articles:

Tips to Kick the Junk Food Addiction

Gastric Bypass: 7 Rules for Managing Your Pouch

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