We aren’t really sure what causes cravings for specific foods; more research needs to be done in order to understand the human appetite. However, mounting research suggests a strong link between hunger and low blood sugar; this may explain (in part, at least) cravings for high-carb foods. Other research suggests the connection behind mind, mood and food may be explained by a serotonin deficiency.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that decreases feelings of anxiety, pain and stress, and some experts think that carbohydrate addicts have a naturally low level of serotonin. Here, you’ll learn that carbohydrate addiction is possible, as well as some of the science behind a low-carb diet.
What is an addiction to carbohydrates?Here, “addiction” and “craving” are used almost interchangeably, and they describe a theory on the relation between carbs, insulin and your appetite. Your body uses insulin to convert starches, sugars and other foods into the energy it needs; eating carbs raises your insulin, which lowers your blood sugar level. Then, you end up craving more food- and some people crave carbohydrates above all else.
Some experts recommend a diet so low in carbs that your insulin response declines and others suggest that choosing low-GI foods can do the same thing. There isn’t enough research to say whether one approach is better than the other, and responses vary from one individual to the next.
What can I expect if I lower my carbohydrate intake? A very low-carb diet is very likely to be lacking in certain nutrients found in plants; people on an Atkins-type diet may not get sufficient fiber, vitamins and minerals. If the imbalance is too great, problems like constipation can result.
What am I missing if I go low-carb? The AHA (American Heart Association) recommends that you eat a diet rich in a variety of low-fat and low-cholesterol foods. While watching your caloric intake is important in weight loss, people still need a full, balanced diet each day. The optimum diet contains about 45-65% carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Low carb diets are likely to be deficient in fiber, B vitamins and other minerals like potassium. To make sure you get all the nutrients you need, eat non-processed fruits and vegetables, lean meat, and low-fat dairy products (and save the sweets for special occasions!) Research suggests that eating breakfast and two other balanced meals is a good way to control hunger and carbohydrate cravings; people with diabetes may need to eat smaller meals throughout the day to control their insulin response.
It is indeed possible to be addicted to carbohydrates, either through a low serotonin level or a conditioned response. However, adopting an extremely low-carb diet may not be the way to attain weight loss- eating a variety of foods from all the major food groups is a way to break the addiction and still get all the nutrients you need.
Photo by Destination Europe.