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Study suggests refined carbs play a role in food addiction

You’ve probably been there before—sitting in the kitchen, fighting the craving for cake, cookies or ice cream (even gluten-free!), and feeling a bit like an addict. If so, you might find solace in a recent study that suggests refined carbs contribute to a drug-like high and crash similar to that experienced by addicts.

This study, conducted by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that the consumption of a meal with high-GI (glycemic index) levels stimulated brain regions and resulted in increased hunger 4 hours after eating.  A high-GI food (like corn syrup) causes a spike in blood sugar levels, a response that researchers are now relating to the high associated with addiction.

Findings like these have been controversial in the past, as the food choices compared were drastically different – in one case cheesecake vs. boiled vegetables. However, in this latest study, participants were given milkshakes that looked and tasted the same, but had different GI’s; one with high-acting carbs (84%) and one with low–acting carbs (37%).

According to a statement by Dr.Ludwig in the report, participants who consumed the high-GI milkshake experienced a surge in blood glucose levels 2.4-times higher than those who had the low-GI version of the shake, and reported excessive hunger 4 hours after the meal.

Additionally, MRI scans of the patients – all of whom were young, obese males – showed increased activity in the region of the brain associated with reward and cravings.

While more studies need to be done, Ludwig believes the initial results send a clear message: “avoiding highly processed carbohydrates could help overweight people avoid overeating.”