For people today, our fast-paced society drives many to eat fast food and processed foods as a way to help with “time management” by eliminating the shopping, prepping and cooking phases of meal preparation. We are bombarded by commercials, ads and billboards with alluring pictures of foods that tempt our senses and drive our hunger. And that may be putting us on the path to weight and blood sugar problems down the road.
Many of those foods we see are high in both fat and carbohydrates (think pizza, nachos, burgers, desserts, etc.), which is not the typical array you’d find in natural foods. Foods high in fats like avocados, cheese and nuts are low in carbs, while carb-dense fruits, potatoes and oats are low in fats. And according to a new study, these convenience foods could be signaling pathways in the brain that drive us to overeating. Do that enough, and the next thing you know you are obese and have developed diabetes!
We all have certain foods that tend to make us feel better, those “comfort foods” we go to as treats or in times of stress. Typically, these are ones that stimulate our brain’s “reward centers”, which is why some may derive great pleasure from a donut or mac and cheese. But these foods may be the most dangerous to eat in regard to those two particular health issues mentioned above, as they may be creating hunger signals to the brain more strongly than if they were just a food that was mainly carbs OR fats. The combined signaling effect from these two macronutrients together could be more than some have the power to resist.
To test this theory, researchers evaluated brain scans of test subjects while they were shown pictures of foods that were either high in fats, high in carbs, or high in both. The subjects had to bid on foods auction-style using real money and were told they could only eat the foods if they won. Some interesting insights came forth from the testing:
- People placed the highest bids for the foods high in both fat and carbs
- Neural circuits in their brain’s reward center lit up the most for the fat-carb combo foods (even more than foods in larger quantities or the person’s favorite food!)
These trends likely indicate why people may not always make the best food choices for their health if they aren’t educated on what is actually in the foods they’re eating. If we are hard-wired to be attracted to less healthy foods that stimulate our pleasure centers, we have to arm ourselves with not only the tools to identify good versus bad choices, but also a plan to make sure we have good options around and are not just grabbing whatever looks good within arm’s reach. That’s where label reading and basic food knowledge will help keep the weight under control.
The researchers also noted that subjects were good at estimating how many calories were in fat foods, but not so good at estimating how many calories were in the carbohydrate or fat-carb combo foods. As part of our programs, we teach patients how to use calorie tracking as a tool to help them achieve their goals for weight loss and blood sugar management. Many are surprised to learn just how many calories they have been eating daily beyond what their bodies needed (which is how the weight gain occurs). We even have our own app that patients can use on their phones to know exactly what they’re eating no matter where they are!
If you’re struggling to keep the weight under control or are looking to get your blood sugars out of the diabetic range, know that there is help and a smarter, safer way to do it beyond fad diets, starving yourself or resorting to weight loss drugs or surgery. We can work with you from wherever your starting point is and help you achieve your health goals while also giving you the tools to make your results last for a lifetime. All it takes is a simple call!