Are all calories created equal? A new study suggests that in at least one important way, they may not be.
Sugary foods and drinks, white bread and other processed carbohydrates that are known to cause abrupt spikes and falls in blood sugar appear to stimulate parts of the brain involved in hunger, craving and reward, the new research shows. The findings, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggest that these so-called high-glycemic foods influence the brain in a way that might drive some people to overeat.
Back in the 1990s, I'd get up in the morning feeling only slightly hungry, but then I'd remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So, I'd have a bowl of Cheerios. Hey, they're "fat-free" so they can't be bad for you. And then after the first bowl, I'd get sharp hunger pangs, so I'd have a second bowl. And then I'd still be hungrier than I was before I started eating, so I'd have a couple of more bowls before I finally felt bloated enough not to feel hungry anymore. Or often I'd run out of Cheerios, forcing me to stop.
For those who are particularly susceptible to these effects, avoiding refined carbohydrates might reduce urges and potentially help control weight, said Dr. David Ludwig, the lead author of the study and the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“This research suggests that based on their effects on brain metabolism, all calories are not alike,” he said. “Not everybody who eats processed carbohydrates develops uncontrollable food cravings. But for the person who has been struggling with weight in our modern food environment and unable to control their cravings, limiting refined carbohydrate may be a logical first step.”
Still, if you can educate 16 million people to try eating in a fashion that's better for them, personally, that's a very good thing.