‘I’m a Carboholic,’ Part #4

‘I’m a Carboholic,’ Part #4

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 fourth instalment of ‘I’m a Carboholic’ (someone who is addicted to refined and ultra-refined carbohydrates), we’ll take a peek into some of the  ways in which the makers of refined food keep us coming back for more! We’ll also learn about the health benefits of fibre-rich food, over and above helping us to achieve reduced or stable weight.

‘Secret’ ingredients

Ultra-processed foods (UPF) aren’t known as ‘junk food’ for nothing. They earn the title largely because the previously recognisable food that has gone into them has been processed to such a high degree the nutritional benefits to be derived from them amount to so little. What’s more, recent studies suggest UPF are associated with obesity and a wide range of other health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But it doesn’t mean we don’t keep coming back for more … and more junk food. In fact, after the first bite, we can’t get enough, and it’s all down to the three ‘secret’ ingredients manufacturers make sure they contain: salt, sugar (including refined carbohydrates such as white flour), and fat.

Because these ingredients contain no (or extremely little) fibre, they are absorbed incredibly quickly into our systems. Research suggests the faster our body can access carbohydrates and fats, the more our brain is impacted by them (that’s one of the reasons why smoking is so addictive – the nicotine hit reaches the brain incredibly quickly). Just as with nicotine, sugary, fatty substances provide our brain with chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine. These are the body’s mood boosters and pain reducers, so it’s no wonder we crave the foods providing these rewards. Because humans are hard wired to seek out pleasure and relief, we return again and again to the foods which deliver this. Before long, our brain is telling us these are the foods we need and want to eat. It’s a viscous cycle that impacts our health in so many ways.

Of course, not everyone is addicted to UPF, and we all know (and often envy) those who can enjoy just 5 or 6 crisps without devouring the entire packet. The problem comes when our brain reaction to these foods renders us unable to limit or stop eating them. Studies have suggested 14% of adults and 12% of children are actually addicted to UPF, and no doubt there are many of us who, although not technically addicted, are consuming far more of this food than is good for our health. If UPF is a problem eating area for you, the only answer may be to keep well away from it – and always! That way, you’re not ‘training’ your brain to seek it out.

Gut instinct

Aside from the problems arising from consuming UPF to a degree we’d rather not, the alternative (eating fibre rich food) can help us in so many ways. In our diet, fibre rich food is best known for helping control appetite and promoting bowel regularity. But the sort of fibre found in unrefined or ‘whole’ foods has a lot more strings to its bow. Inflammation (which can cause reddening, heating, and swelling to the body) is part of our natural defence system against infection. But when inflammation becomes chronic (i.e. it persists for longer than we want it to, or keeps recurring in a way that is unhelpful) it has also been linked to a wide range of diseases. These include rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular problems.

Research suggests when fibrous food is being digested (or when it lingers) in the gut, it changes the gut’s pH (acid or alkaline levels). It also alters the degree to which nutrients can pass through the gut and into the body’s cells. It’s thought these affects can help reduce inflammation in the body, and possibly contribute to working against disease. It has even been postured fibre-rich whole foods may help in the fight against depression.

The true value of fibre-rich whole foods is still being discovered. As are the problems associated with ultra-processed foods. For those, like me, who acknowledge they are addicted to refined and ultra-refined foods, the benefits of keeping away from them are crystal clear.

Previous Carboholics Articles

“My Name is Helen, and I’m a Carboholic”

‘I’m a Carboholic,’ Part #2

‘I’m a Carboholic,’ Part #3