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.
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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.