If you've ever heard someone say they are a carbohydrate addict, they probably aren't far off the mark. Carbohydrate sensitivity is a relatively new phenomenon, in terms of it being the national epidemic that it is. With the increasing consumption of packaged, refined and sweetened foods over the past decades, there has been a corresponding decrease in whole, unprocessed foods. Eating a diet consisting of heavily refined foods, which includes a high-carbohydrate content, will cause you to gain weight and eventually develop carbohydrate sensitivity.
This carbohydrate-craving trend most likely occurred from decades of misconceptions about diet as well as through misleading advertising and diet fads. Consider this: we are eating over twelve times the amount of sugar our great grandparents were consuming in the early part of the century. That's roughly equivalent to 160 pounds of sugar per person per year. Now, imagine filling up your living room or garage with those 160 of those one pound packages you buy at the grocery store-really get a mental picture of it. Let's say you don't eat as much as others, and cut it in half. It's still a hefty pile, isn't it? You see, most people have no idea that they're eating so much sugar. Much of it is hidden in processed foods as well as their beverages.
Chalk it up to a lack of relevant health education by our government, or just a lack of impetus on the part of individuals to do their own research, but whatever the cause of this health crisis, the bottom line is this. Sugar is lethal in large doses. It may not kill you the way heroin might in a single overdose, but its chronic strain on the pancreas and the body will trigger diseases that will most certainly destroy you. Before it does that though, eaten out of moderation sugar will first cause you to become overweight.
Inside the body, carbohydrates are converted to glucose (sugar). Translated, that means carbohydrates equal sugar, and for those of you who are already overweight, those complex carbohydrates will also be stored as fat. This is called carbohydrate sensitivity. I know-- it's not fair! But here are the facts: your body isn't supposed to eat all the sweet stuff you've put into it, and if you are sensitive to carbs, it means your body has gotten out of whack.
What is Carbohydrate Sensitivity?
Carbohydrate sensitivity is connected to the pancreas and insulin production, but I'll get to that a little later. Here's a number to shake you up. Did you know that up to 40% of a person's carbohydrate intake during a meal can be converted and stored as fat? Multiply that times a few meals a day, and you see the outcome: a bulging waistline. The problem with a high-carbohydrate diet is that it's devastating to your natural metabolic processes.
This means that when you become carbohydrate sensitive, your body can no longer burn fat effectively, and those moderate to low-glycemic and complex carbohydrates get stored as fat. Many people walk around completely unaware that they're metabolically challenged from their carbohydrate intake. I know that I was completely ignorant for years, which was at least partly due to my misconception that I had to be overweight to be carbohydrate sensitive. Wrong. I was just extremely active and things looked all right on the outside. Slowly but surely, I'd reach for the carb every time over the protein.
I was carbohydrate addicted. The beginning of my real education on the subject and my change in diet was when I learned about insulin in the body and a low-glycemic approach to eating.
Insulin Loves Glucose
Before you start yawning and think, oh boy, now it's getting technical and here's where I sign off, please don't! Learning about the glucose-insulin response just might change your life.
Your hormone insulin really loves glucose. Inside your body, glucose is a byproduct of carbohydrate breakdown. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks it down into a form of sugar called glucose. Now I'll keep it simple here for the layman.
Insulin is like an escort. It escorts the sugar into your muscle cells, where it's then used to produce energy. We need energy, so we can thank both insulin and glucose for their terrific partnership-that is, when they have a normal relationship.
Now, complex carbohydrates make the insulin release more slowly from the pancreas, which is what you want. You want a slow courtship of insulin and glucose. Let's say you eat simple sugars or highly processed foods containing sugar. Those carbohydrates break down very fast into glucose. What happens then is that insulin levels rise rapidly in order to escort more glucose into the tissues and your bloodstream is quickly bombarded with excess insulin. If you didn't understand how it works before this, can you see how that this kind of chronic situation in the body will absolutely lead to diabetes? Remember, diabetes spares no one when it comes to diet and lifestyle induced diabetes.
Your body can normally handle occasional overloads of simple carbohydrates and store them as extra glucose, rather than fat. But many people have abused their systems for so long-through simply eating too many refined carbohydrates or living with other problematic factors such as chronic stress-that their bodies start to work against nature. Essentially, their once normal and healthy metabolism begins to malfunction, and their compromised bodies store carbohydrates as fat instead of burning glucose for energy.
Once you've become carbohydrate sensitive it tends to go downhill. Even a balanced meal of chicken or pork, some potatoes or bread, and a nice array of vegetables don't get metabolized correctly. This kind of meal in and of itself shouldn't be fattening. However, you can become so sensitive to the bread and the potatoes in your meal that you will deposit even the carbohydrates and protein as body fat. And if you eat a piece of bread or a small plate of pasta, your body will send your insulin levels soaring, reacting as strongly as if you had eaten a piece of cake.
To add insult to injury, your intake of sugar also raises your cholesterol. Now, you can understand why so many people struggle to lose weight and promote better health, even when they switch to a "healthier" diet.
Other Factors Triggering Carbohydrate Sensitivity
Lack of exercise
Glucose is stored in the muscles, and if you have a low percentage of muscle and a high percentage of fat-where can glucose go? One of the most important things you can do to overcome this sensitivity is to change your body composition by exercising. This will preserve and enhance lean muscle mass which will help lower your body fat and raise your metabolism.
Our bodies deal with stress by raising cortisol levels, a hormone secreted from our adrenal glands. This, in turn, triggers the release of glucose from its "storage "depots" and into the bloodstream. Insulin levels also increase so glucose (which you remember is dearly loved by insulin) can be escorted from the blood to those working muscles that need it for energy.
But when stress is constant, high glucose and insulin are also constant. Being under acute stress is the same as if you had eaten a piece of cake--and experiencing chronic anxiety and stress is like eating cake all day long. The result is insulin resistance inside the insulin receptors on the cells-they simply don't recognize insulin anymore. The escort glucose might as well be an imposter now.
To add insult to injury even further, stress spikes insulin levels as if we ate the cake, and then we do eat cake--giving the insulin response system a double whammy.
Serotonin, one of your brain's central neurotransmitters, is involved in regulating your appetite and hunger. If you have too little serotonin, you will crave carbohydrates and feel depressed. Increasing your serotonin blunts your yen for carbohydrates. Serotonin is also a mood regulator and increases your sense of well-being. Not surprisingly, when this hormone is stimulated you eat less, gain less, and burn more calories.
How Do You Know if You're Carbohydrate Sensitive?
If you're a woman, the odds are you'll become carbohydrate sensitive sooner and more easily than a man will. While men tend to use carbohydrates for energy, women tend to store them as fat. This is especially true as women age. Menopausal women tend to be more prone: they don't have enough estrogen stores to deal with cortisol and its tendency to make the body store fat. It's just female biology.
Factors That Might Indicate Carbohydrate Sensitivity
--You crave carbohydrates
--You are overweight or obese
--You don't exercise very much or at all
--You're a woman and over forty
--You suffer from chronic or bouts of depression and compulsive overeating (serotonin or other neurotransmitter imbalance, possibly)
--You have been over-stressed for some time
--You are hormonally challenged and under a doctor's care
--You react negatively to eating sugar, i.e., you become tired, groggy, and your mental response becomes sluggish
--You reach for carbohydrates over protein most or all of the time
--Your diet doesn't consist mostly of whole foods, especially low to moderate glycemic foods
If you identify with the signs, consider that you might have a problem, but don't despair. I promise you can learn how to stop this heart-breaking cycle and get off the carbohydrate-sugar rollercoaster forever.