Around Our Town...To Your Health
Breaking the Carbohydrate Addiction
07/01/2005 - Last month I described my addiction to carbohydrates – highly processed carbs that spiked my blood sugar and my insulin level, which in turn caused my blood sugar to fall below normal (hypoglycemia), and stimulated a voracious hunger for more carbs. Like myself, most people take this roller coaster ride several times a day, causing them to feel shaky at times or sleepy after meals, and making them "graze" throughout the day. I used to be a "grazing" addict: I ate a bowl of cold cereal with skim milk and juice, then mid morning I had a granola bar or bagel or donut, then I ate all of my lunch and was still hungry, so I snacked all afternoon on candy and cookies, then I had two helpings of supper, followed by dessert, and finally a bowl of ice cream before bedtime.
Right now I am still thin, but who's to say that 10-20 years from now, with those same eating habits, that I wouldn't be 10-20 pounds overweight. I might be tempted to write off the weight gain as "a change in my metabolism," but I now know that it would be my carbohydrate addiction, which leads to insulin resistance, that would cause me to become overweight.
When we eat high glycemic and processed carbohydrates, our blood sugar spikes up, causing a high spike in our body's insulin level. The repeated spiking of sugar and insulin causes inflammation in the blood vessels - making them thicker and narrower - and thus it becomes more difficult for the sugar and insulin to pass through the blood vessel wall to get into the cell where it can be used for energy. Instead the sugar is stored as fat in our abdomens. This is the beginning of insulin resistance which causes 5 main changes in our bodies: weight gain, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, high cholesterol (particularly high triglycerides and low HDLs), and the "plugging up" of our heart arteries. These 5 things don't happen all at once. The symptoms of insulin resistance usually begin with gaining weight and having trouble losing it. Then a person may start to show changes in their triglycerides and HDLs or see a rise in their blood sugar. The final stage of insulin resistance is Type 2 Diabetes, which no one wants. High blood pressure and heart disease may appear early or late in this process as well. So how do you prevent or reverse the dangerous cascade of insulin resistance?
It mainly boils down to breaking the addiction to high glycemic and processed carbohydrates. What are these foods, you ask. Glycemic index is a measure of the rate of rise of a person's blood sugar after consuming various carbohydrates. Foods with a high glycemic index include cold breakfast cereals, crackers, breads, cookies, enriched white flour, white rice, potatoes, pasta, popcorn, pretzels, juices, and soda pop. Many of these foods are a mainstay of our diets, and many of you may already be saying, "I can't quit eating potatoes," or "I can't give up bread!" Even I used to say, "I'll never trade cold cereal for oatmeal mush!" But I did.
I made the shift from eating cold cereal to enjoying hot "mush" for breakfast. I now eat an egg and either cracked wheat, 6-grain or 9-grain hot cereal, barley, oatmeal, or germade – a less processed form of cream of wheat (oatmeal and cream of wheat shouldn't be instant because they are too highly processed and will spike your blood sugar). My wife has made them interesting by adding raisins, dried cranberries, dried plums, apples, cinnamon, and/or walnuts. I have a glass of milk or water with my meals (I had given up Dr. Pepper after college), and rather than a glass of my favorite grapefruit juice with breakfast, I enjoy a half grapefruit when they're in season. I can now make it all the way to lunch without getting hungry. I eat part of my lunch, saving my piece of fruit for an afternoon snack. No longer do I crave candy and cookies all afternoon. For supper, I usually eat one helping and may or may not have room for a little dessert. And I no longer crave my bedtime bowl of ice cream either.
I have successfully broken my addiction to high glycemic and highly processed carbohydrates by making healthier choices for fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain breads, cereals and pastas. I no longer crave chocolate all day long; in fact, my candy jar at work that I used to fill every 2 weeks still has candy in it from Valentine's Day. I have cut the amount of food I eat by about 1/3, and I don't go hungry. You, too, can break the carbohydrate addiction by making healthier choices. It may not be easy, but I can guarantee that you will feel much better and be much healthier.