‘I’m a Carboholic,’ Part #3

‘I’m a Carboholic,’ Part #3

Note: the following is not intended as professional advice. If you are concerned about your diet, consult your medical professionals. 

Hi, I’m Helen, and in this third instalment of ‘I’m a Carboholic’ (someone who is addicted to refined and ultra-refined carbohydrates), we’ll be discussing how plant fibre in our diet helps us to feel full for longer, and how refined food has the opposite effect.

Fibre helps us feel full for longer in several remarkable ways. The first, is fibre-rich foods have a protective coating to them (think ‘grains of brown rice with their natural bran coating’ versus ‘grains of white rice that have had the coating polished off’). The natural coatings of fibre-rich foods make it more difficult (and time consuming) for our digestive enzymes to ‘break into’ them. Once they do, they convert the starches inside into the sugars that fuels us. It’s only once this digestive process has been completed, our brain receives the ‘hunger message’ and says to us: ‘It’s time to start eating again.’ In other words, when we eat fibre-rich foods, we postpone the hunger message.

More recently, researchers have discovered an anti-hunger molecule called ‘acetate,’ and it has a strong association with fibre rich foods. You’ll recall from our last ‘carboholic’ article, fibre (depending on the type) is either slower or impossible for our body to digest, and it lingers in the gut before being passed through our system. While it does bide its time in our gut, it will often ferment with the help of our gut microbiome (bacteria that breaks down food). It turns out, while the fermentation process is going on, the acetate molecule is being released. When it is, it travels up to our brain and sparks the ‘feeling full’ signal.

Fibre-rich foods have another trick up their sleeve to stop us feeling hungry. ‘Dieters’ (perish the word), know ‘pre-loading’ (i.e. drinking a glass or two of water before a meal) can help give the feeling of fullness sooner. In a similar way, soluble fibre helps us feel full sooner because of the amount of water it is capable of absorbing. It literally bulks out our tummy. As an added bonus, some of these same soluble fibres (found in such foods as oat bran, lentils, beans, and nuts) also develop into a gel once consumed, slowing down digestion further.

The antithesis of all this goodness is refined (processed) food – where much, if not all, of the food fibre has been removed (think back to the white rice example). Why, when food fibre is so much better for our health, do we crave these refined products? Part of the reason is the instant calorie hit they give us. As humans who have, in an evolutionary sense, had to work hard to hunt and gather our every calorie of food, we’ve placed a very high value on food delivering the most energy for the least effort. Fruits tend to be favoured over vegetables. Meat and fish, with their no-fibre, high-protein content have come out on tops. Today, we don’t have to hunt far to find the sorts of virtually fibreless foods, so easy to digest, we have our calories within seconds of devouring them (think potato crisps, chocolate, and white bread). Yet, while we’re catering for our primitive brain’s demands for easy calories, we’re finishing the digestive process way too soon, and getting feedback from our brain it’s time (yes, already) to eat again. No wonder our weight climbs ever higher!

For those who are carboholics, there’s an even greater downside to refined food consumption, because once a carboholic starts consuming refined foods, they face an immense struggle to stop. For them, it’s not about using refined food as an occasional treat, it’s about being unable to resist it, once they take the first mouthful. It’s as if their evolutionary brain is saying to them, “Now you’ve found your high calorie food source, stock up, because you don’t know how long it will be until you discover something similar again.”

In our next instalment of “I’m a Carboholic,” we’ll be looking at the health benefits of fibre-rich food, over and above helping achieve reduced or stable weight. We’ll also take a peek into some of the devious ways in which makers of refined food keep us coming back for more!

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