Sugary foods and other processed carbohydrates, such as bagels, white rice, juice and soda, stimulate areas of the brain that control for hunger to a greater degree than whole foods, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Because sugary and processed foods, known as high-glycemic, cause extreme spikes and dips in blood sugar levels, the body is driven to compensate for low blood sugar by consuming more food. As a result, people who eat highly processed foods may be more likely to overeat. Prior studies have also found that sugary foods stimulate a higher sense of pleasure in the brain than do healthy foods.
What’s the Big Idea?
After decades of fighting obesity, public health officials have stuck to the message “exercise and eat less,” despite research suggesting that different kinds of calories exist on a spectrum from better to worse. Christopher Gardner, a nutrition scientist at Stanford University who was not involved in the new study, said: “An underlying assumption of the ‘eat less’ portion of that message has been ‘a calorie is a calorie.'” But the new research “sheds light on the strong plausibility that it isn’t just the amount of food we are eating, but also the type.” Instead of simply easting less, a more helpful message may be to east less refined carbohydrates and more whole foods.