Have you ever wondered why we crave foods like cupcakes, chocolate, pasta or hot potato chips? The main reason that we crave these foods is that they are simple carbohydrates (carbs) which are our bodies preferred fuel source, carbs also make us feel good, they increase a feel good neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain – neurotransmitters are chemicals which stimulate responses from the body/brain such as adrenaline (flight or fight response), dopamine which is responsible for risk/reward emotions or GABA which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which means it makes us relax and who can forget serotonin which gives us feelings of pleasure.
Serotonin which I mentioned before is a neurotransmitter when it is released in the brain and increases feelings of contentment and happiness. Carbohydrates supply the precursor to serotonin; tryptophan so this is often why we crave these foods, they are delicious but they also invoke a serotonin reaction in us.
This may seem like good news to those of us who crave sweet or savoury simple carbs (me included) however in the long term this is unsustainable, the “high” from the simple carbohydrate intake becomes less and less as your body gets used to a certain amount of carbohydrate, this is because our insulin which is the hormone used to digest carbohydrates stops being as effective and that means we don’t absorb carbs as well as we once did.
The carbohydrate high only lasts a short time and like any drug it wears off leaving you wanting more. Often the foods we are craving like potato chips, pizza or lollies are simple carbs derived these are foods that are simple sugars or starches that break down rapidly.
There are two types of carbs, simple and complex carbs and they are different due to the time it takes to be absorbed in the body this has a lot to do with the fibre content of the carb.
Fibre delays the absorption of sugar and starch so it takes our bodies longer to absorb the sugar or starch, because of this we don’t get the same quick intense brain altering effect as we would with a rapidly absorbed hot chips, lollies or chocolate (potato although a vegetable has way more starch than fibre so is absorbed quickly).
Simple carbs Vs Complex carbs:
The reason this happens is every time we ingest a carb into our body, it releases insulin into the body, it is our bodies way of digesting carbohydrates, the rate of insulin release depends on the ease of absorption of the carbs into our body
Simple carbohydrate digestion results in a higher rate of release of insulin, complex carbohydrates have a slow release impact on insulin.
If we are constantly releasing insulin, our bodies become tolerant of insulin i.e. insulin resistance, this means eventually when you eat, insulin cells are less responsive and your body can’t get the sugar or glucose it needs to function normally. When we eat too many simple carbs it leads to diabetes and other complications such as mood disturbances and low energy levels.
The other problem with eating simple carbs is when you initially eat and insulin gets released, the rate of insulin release depends on the amount of sugar or starch which gets converted into glucose.
The more simple or refined a carb is the more rapidly insulin gets released and usually is more insulin than needed, this is to overcompensate from the rapid rise in blood sugar.
Therefore after you eat your blood sugar goes up high and makes you feel good and then it drops due to the insulin release if you are ingesting simple carbs the insulin response is rapid and greater than the carb eaten and this can make you feel tired, anxious, depressed and irritable. Not what you need for sustaining a good mood.
Not only do refined carbs mess with our mood the ones we don’t use for energy we store as fat. For most people who are struggling with weight issues carbs are the reason they are over weight not the fat they consume.
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