Refined Carbohydrates for Food Addicts
On a trip
last week to the Pacific Coast with our (almost) 3-year-old
grandson, Jaysen, Mary and I stopped at a general store for
a beverage. I looked for one of my old favorites, cream
soda. A 20-ounce bottle with 300 calories of high fructose
corn syrup was all they stocked. Too sweet for me—after a
couple of sips the rest of the bottle ended up in the trash.
This experience left me believing that I had stumbled upon
“sugar-addict’s heaven”—and there must be billions of
sugar-dependent people in this world in order to make these
powerfully-sweetened beverages top-sellers and 20-ounces the
smallest size available.
People naturally seek calories
in the form of carbohydrate. When concentrated, carbohydrate
delivers intense stimulation to the consumer—just like the
alkaloids, cocaine and opium, purified from the coca leaf
and the poppy plant, give the highest pleasure to their
users. In their natural, unprocessed states—in the whole
plants—all of these active ingredients are much less potent.
My brief experience with the people of Peru, who chew coca
leaves daily, led me to conclude that this habit was
relatively harmless, and can be beneficial by helping them
live in those high altitudes. Once purified, cocaine
becomes a powerful, but often life-destroying, stimulant.
Similarly, carbohydrates in their natural packages of whole
starches, vegetables, and fruits, are essential for life.
When they are purified, their stimulating properties are
enhanced, as are their harmful effects.
Food Processing Raises Insulin
Levels and More
When people consume significant
quantities of unhealthy foods for prolonged periods of time
their bodies show signs of distress, usually a rise in one
or more risk factors—such as an elevation of blood sugar,
cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and/or insulin.
These values are called “risk factors” because they are
associated with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and
obesity. The association is not one of “cause and effect,”
but rather rich foods cause them to rise and concurrently
cause people to become sick.
The refining of plant foods
commonly results in elevations of insulin levels. When whole
grains are ground into whole flours nothing is added or
removed, yet the properties of the food have changed. The
physical structure has gone from a nugget to a powder—as a
result the surface area of the food exposed to the
intestinal lining has increased and the natural fibers of
the food have been disrupted. This simple grinding process
results in a greater elevation in the insulin levels in a
person’s blood after eating, than that which is caused by
the whole grain.1 During the next step of
purification the whole grain flour is sifted to remove the
chaff, thereby eliminating dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals
and other important nutrients. The end product of this
purification is white flour, which causes an even greater
rise in insulin than the unrefined flour.
A classic experiment reported in
1977 showed similar effects on insulin production from the
processing of fruit.2 After eating an apple,
subjects showed a small rise and fall in blood sugar
(glucose) and a small rise in blood insulin levels.
Applesauce, made by simply grinding the apples, caused a
greater rise in insulin and subsequent fall in blood sugar.
The juice, made by removing the pulp, caused the largest
rise in insulin and fall in blood sugar levels. These kinds
of studies demonstrate that consuming grains, vegetables and
fruits in their unprocessed form is healthiest for the body.
Purified Carbohydrates Raise
common teaching is that carbohydrates are bad because they
cause blood triglycerides to increase (higher triglycerides
are associated with more heart disease). These findings are
based upon experimental designs using simple sugars and
refined flours (and/or the subjects were required to eat
more food than they could comfortably consume – they were
force-fed).3,4 The rise in triglycerides is
caused primarily by an increase in synthesis of these blood
fats by the liver.5 For example, when people
with already elevated triglycerides were fed a diet rich in
sugar for 6 weeks their levels increased by 45.2%.6
However, when starches, the complex form of carbohydrate
found in whole grains, beans, potatoes, and green and yellow
vegetables, rather than sugars, are fed to people, the
triglyceride levels do not increase.7
My experience has been that
people who are having problems getting their cholesterol and
triglycerides under control need to stop using refined flour
products and simple sugars. Even fruit and fruit juices must
be limited because they are high in sugars called
fructose—this kind of sugar (fructose) causes a greater rise
in triglycerides than any other kind of sugar.8
Purification of Carbohydrate
Makes Weight Loss More Difficult
After observing human
populations worldwide, the undeniable conclusion that must
be reached is that carbohydrates keep people trim, active,
and young looking. Asians eating white rice and Peruvians
eating white potatoes prove this point beyond any argument.
This truth is confirmed by the observation of these people
as they migrate to Western countries—as they eat less
carbohydrate, they become fatter and sicker.
However, as the carbohydrate
becomes more purified through refining, weight control
becomes less efficient10,11 for several reasons:
1) Purification concentrates
The calorie concentration of
carbohydrate-rich foods can be quadrupled by purification
Increases with Refining
Concentration of carbohydrates
makes overconsumption of calories easier. Mixing water and
other ingredients with the flour lessens their impact: pasta
(spaghetti) is 1.4 calories per gram and whole wheat bread
is 2.5 calories per gram. By comparison, there are 4
calories in every gram (1/30th of an ounce) of
2) The more carbohydrate
available, the less fat that is burned off. Even though
sugar does not readily turn to fat, the body will burn these
sugar calories preferentially over fat calories, leaving the
fat on the body.
3) Processing and refining
increase insulin production. Insulin’s actions are to
push dietary fats into fat cells and prevent them from being
4) Sugar plus fat makes a
double whammy. Sugar is rarely eaten alone, but rather
in combinations with fat as single foods, like cake, ice
cream, pies and candy bars, or a combination of foods, like
the standard American diet which is about half fat and half
sugar. The sugar spikes insulin production, pushing the
readily available fat from the spoonful of dessert right
into the belly fat.
5) Sugar makes food highly
pleasurable, causing people to consume more calories.
For these reasons people
interested in more effective weight loss will minimize their
consumption of purified carbohydrates—in addition to
minimizing their fat intake. They will also make special
efforts to avoid sugar-fat combinations, even commonly
overlooked items, such as vegan cookies, soy yogurt, and
tofu ice cream.
Fructose Promotes Obesity
Fructose is the most powerful
sweetener of all naturally-occurring sugars; even table
sugar (sucrose) owes much of its taste to fructose. (Sucrose
is a disaccharide made of one glucose and one fructose
molecule.) Corn is the most common source of this kind of
sugar and is designated by the name high fructose corn
syrup (HFCS). This cheap brand of sugar now represents
40% of the caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages,
and is the sole sweetener used in soft drinks in the United
States. (Note: Coca-Cola in the old fashioned bottles from
Mexico is made from the natural sugar, glucose.)
De novo lipogenesis, the
synthesis of fat from sugar, occurs readily with fructose,
whereas with other kinds of simple sugars, like glucose,
this synthesis does not commonly occur.11 Many
experts blame the recent rise in obesity on high fructose
corn syrup consumption.12 The use of this HFCS
has increased by more than 1000% between 1970 and 1990.13
Fructose affects hormones very much like the way that fat
does; it increases hunger, which results in more dietary fat
and food intake. In addition, fructose does not stimulate
brain satiety, as glucose does.11
intake, food intake, and calorie intake
stimulate brain satiety
Promotes De Novo
Sugar Rots the Teeth
Dental caries are the result of
the interplay of cariogenic micro-organisms (bacteria),
carbohydrates, and susceptible teeth.14 Studies
of ancient skeletons indicate widespread tooth decay has
only recently occurred and is a result of the refining of
plant-foods and the use of sugars.15 The more
sugar is consumed, and the more often it is consumed between
meals, the more likely the teeth will decay. Even today, the
level of dental caries is low in countries where people eat
less than 33 to 44 pounds (15 to 20 Kg) of sugar per person
per year.16 (The average sugar intake in US in
1999 was 158 pounds annually—72 Kg.)
Bacteria living in the mouth are
able to convert simple sugars into strong acids which eat
through the tooth’s enamel and begin the process of tooth
decay. One kind of sugar seems to be as caustic as any
other for producing acid and demineralizing the tooth
enamel.14 Bottle feeding with formula and fruit
juices results in the loss of the front teeth; a place in
the mouth where exposure to sugars can be prolonged.17,18
This condition is commonly referred to as baby bottle
tooth decay. Even the lactose sugar found in mother’s
breast milk will cause tooth decay if the sugar has
prolonged contact with baby’s teeth, which commonly occurs
when the infant sleeps with the breast dripping milk sugar
on the teeth all night long.19
The best solution to tooth decay
is to reduce the exposure of the tooth enamel to simple
sugars by avoiding processed and refined foods. Secondary
efforts should be to remove the sugars by tooth brushing and
rinsing the mouth with water after eating.
Refined Sugars Are “Empty
Calories” and They Rob Your Body of Nutrients
Important ingredients naturally
found in the plants include carbohydrates, dietary fiber,
proteins, essential fats, vitamins, minerals, and an
abundance of other phytonutrients. These ingredients all
work together in the body’s metabolic processes. When
ingredients are missing from a food, then they must be
borrowed from another source. Pure sugars have been stripped
of all their nutrients, except for the simple
carbohydrate—thus they are called “empty calories.” To
metabolize the sugar, nutrients stored in the body or from
other foods must be scavenged—in this sense “sugar robs your
body of vitamins and minerals.”
Fortunately, foods are abundant
in nutrients. Disease due to nutrient deficiencies from
consuming even large amounts of refined flours and sugars is
rarely obvious. However, on a subtle level, eating
significant quantities of nutrient-poor food must hinder the
general ability of the body to resist disease and to heal.
Is Sugar Really Food Heroin?
People who consume purified
carbohydrates in the form of refined flours and simple
sugars become habituated to their intense stimulation.
Remember from last month’s newsletter (September 2006) that
humans are anatomically and physiologically designed to seek
and consume carbohydrates. The tip of our tongue tastes
with pleasure only one calorie-containing substance,
carbohydrate. These carbohydrates provide a reward to the
person by producing opioid- and dopamine-mediated
responses—changes in the brain’s chemistry which cause us to
feel pleasure. For some people changing their
diet seems to be harder then kicking an addiction to
tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, or heroin. Other people easily
come to the conclusion that whole foods are tastier than the
purified products and many of us do not enjoy the intense
stimulation from high sugar foods and beverages—and that is
why after two sips I threw my cream soda in the trash.
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