Low-carb and keto diets are popular because they work. But, there is a catch. To be successful, you must break free from the addictive nature of refined carbohydrates. This blog post shares why we binge on carby cookies and candies, not low-carb broccoli, eggs, and fish.
Why Carbs are Addictive – At-A-Glance
- An enzyme in saliva, along with chewing, splits large carb molecules into their basic sugar units within the mouth. This is why carbohydrates taste sweet.
- A phenomenon known as the Cephalic Phase Insulin Response causes insulin to be secreted when a sweet solution is held in your mouth, a response that should only happen when food is consumed.
- Regular consumption of sugar (a refined carb) alters your brain chemistry and dulls your taste buds, making you feel like you need more and more of it to feel good.
Here’s Why You Find Carbs SO Addictive [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- Why carbs taste so good.
- How the regular consumption of sugar affects your brain and taste buds.
- How to break free from carbs!
Carbs Start to Break Down in Your Mouth
The digestion of carbohydrates starts in your mouth. When you take a bite of a carb-containing food, it breaks down mechanically due to chewing and chemically due to an enzyme in saliva called salivary amylase. These actions split large carbohydrate molecules into their basic sugar units, which is why carbohydrates taste sweet.
Thanks to a few genetic variants that science is still unraveling, some of us are naturally more drawn to sweetness than others (1).
And some carbohydrates are naturally sweeter than others. For example, in a comparison of sweetness values, fructose which occurs naturally in fruit and is added to many refined snack foods and sodas as either fructose or high-fructose corn syrup tops the list. Whereas whole-food carbs with fiber taste the least sweet.
This begins to explain why you crave soda and candy bars, not a stalk of broccoli. With refined, high-sugar foods, you get an immediate reward. That instant exposure to sweetness keeps your sweet tooth alive, even if you don’t swallow the treat, thanks to a phenomenon called the cephalic phase insulin response.
Cephalic Phase Insulin Response
Insulin is a nutrient-storing hormone. It is released when you have nutrients in your system that need storing, In other words, after you eat.
However, studies have been performed that asked participants to swish different non-caloric sweetened solutions around in their mouths and then spit them out. They did not swallow the solution, yet when their blood was drawn after holding the taste in their mouths, their blood insulin levels went up. (2)(3)
So, the moral of the story is that you can’t cheat the system by switching to non-caloric sweeteners or holding soda or junk food in your mouth just to get that taste and then spit it out. When you do, your body is anticipating food that never comes, which could contribute to more carbohydrate cravings and insulin resistance, which is a common barrier to weight loss.
Changes in Your Physiology [Brain Chemistry & Taste Buds]
Unlike our ancestors, we have 24/7 access to food. However, many of the foods available to us today have been altered from their natural state to increase their shelf life and crave factor.
If you just give in and eat these refined foods, they will change your physiology in ways that make you need more of them. For instance, sugar, which is the most refined carbohydrate, alters your brain chemistry and dulls your taste buds, making you feel like you need more and more of it to feel good.
When we regularly give in to the desire to give ourselves a sugar or carby fix, we see things happen in an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens that make our cravings even stronger. Eating these foods and drinks multiple times a day chronically stimulates this area of the brain, causing it to downregulate or become less sensitive. The result is that you need more sugar and junk food to get the same pleasurable hit that you used to get.
A similar response happens with your taste receptors. If you overload your diet with sweet foods, your taste buds dull to the sensation.
In other words, your food choices drive your carb needs. The more you eat, the higher your sweetness threshold climbs, making you crave more.
Fortunately, when you stop eating sugary and refined carbs, these actions reverse, and the next time you eat them, they taste intensely, or even uncomfortably, sweet. The amount of time it takes for this reset will vary from one person to the next. However, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after just one month on a low-sugar diet, taste buds become more sensitive to sugar (4).
The addictive nature of refined carbohydrates is not some cruel twist of fate meant to plague the human race. Quite the opposite, it appears to be a built-in mechanism to ensure that we eat enough food to survive when food is present. This was helpful for our ancestors but not so useful in our modern, food-abundant society with 24/7 access to food.
You can break free from your addiction to refined carbs, and you don’t have to give up all carbohydrates. You’ll find success when you give your brain and body time to reset by getting refined carbs and sugar out of your diet for at least 30 days. You can also start focusing on getting more satisfying low carb foods into your diet. I have a list of 100 low-carb foods that you can download as a guide.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Søberg, Susanna, et al. “FGF21 is a sugar-induced hormone associated with sweet intake and preference in humans.” Cell metabolism 25.5 (2017): 1045-1053.
(2) Dhillon, Jaapna, Janice Y. Lee, and Richard D. Mattes. “The cephalic phase insulin response to nutritive and low-calorie sweeteners in solid and beverage form.” Physiology & behavior 181 (2017): 100-109.
(3) Just, Tino, et al. “Cephalic phase insulin release in healthy humans after taste stimulation?.” Appetite 51.3 (2008): 622-627.
(4) Wise, Paul M., et al. “Reduced dietary intake of simple sugars alters perceived sweet taste intensity but not perceived pleasantness.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 103.1 (2016): 50-60.