Studies show your body responds to high-sugar foods much like it responds to drugs. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Studies show your body responds to high-sugar foods much like it responds to drugs. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Sugar. Just the thought of it tickles a happy place in our soul.

The sweet flavor dancing on the tongue. The rush of energy through our body. The boundless supply all around.

Then, after an indulgence of goodies, the dreaded thoughts of guilt start piling up.

How many empty calories was that? Why did I eat the whole thing? Why can’t I stop eating this junk? It’s not healthy for me. My blood sugars will skyrocket!

We have all been there. The temptations are all around.

But what is it about this tantalizing food that makes us want to eat so much of it, despite the fact we all know it does nothing good for our body?

Let’s first take a look at what processed food is.

Cravings

Simply put, processed means it has been mechanically or chemically altered from its original state. This may or may not be a good thing.

Peanuts, for example, are mechanically altered into a paste we call peanut butter. Does this make them unhealthy? No, it has just been crushed up.

However, when whole wheat is mechanically processed to remove the bran and the endosperm, you end up with fiber-less starch that has lost many vitamins and minerals vital to our health.

They also chemically alter it—bleaching it—to make it whiter and to improve the baking quality.

These processes also create a longer shelf-life for the product to keep things from spoiling on the shelf.

Another way foods are made for a longer shelf life?

Drumroll please …. Sugar!

Not only do food manufacturers strip away all of the good nutrition from the flours, they add sugar to most foods to prevent spoilage.

Isn’t this a good thing? To keep foods from spoiling? Not at the expense of our health.

Food manufacturers will lose money if their food goes bad before it sells, so processing is their way of fighting this.

A good rule of thumb is that if a food goes bad in a week, it probably has not been processed and is in its natural state, containing a lot more nutrition (with the exception of dried and canned goods of course).

So if these foods are so bad for us, why do we crave them so much? One of the reasons is that these foods actually cause a higher release of dopamine (a brain hormone that signals pleasure), and development of addiction-like behaviors with compulsive eating.

In fact, in MRI imaging, studies have shown these foods actually light up the same area as drugs of abuse. No wonder we crave these foods!

Furthermore, with high sugar intakes, the immediate rush of sugar causes a drastic increase in blood glucose, followed by a surge of insulin to get it back down.

The result: low blood sugar, which leads to craving sweets again to get it back up.

This makes for a vicious cycle.

Control

One of the ways to combat these cravings is to improve your diet—get a good balance of fiber, healthy fats and protein.

Healthy fats, protein and fiber tend to increase satiety, that feeling of fullness, and they’ll stay in your stomach longer, making you feel more satisfied. They also prevent your blood sugars from spiking, which can prevent the low blood sugars and subsequent cravings.

What foods are good choices when you’re seeking protein, healthy fats and fiber?

  • Protein: fish, chicken, eggs, nuts/seeds, beans, cheese/yogurt, lean beef/pork.
  • Fats: olive oil, nuts, avocado, flax seed oil.
  • Fiber: flax seeds, chia seeds, fresh fruits/veggies, 100 percent whole grains, beans, nuts/seeds.

Plan out your day to include these foods in frequent small meals, to avoid getting too hungry.