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Spotlight on holistic health: Are you addicted to carbohydrates?

Just one more: Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body, but some types are more healthful than others.

CARBOHYDRATES are one of the body’s main sources of energy, and yet they cause some of the biggest problems too, including weight gain, blood sugar dysregulation, allergies and intolerances and addictive eating! This month, naturopath and IDP health and wellness columnist, Donna Warr unpacks the beloved carbohydrate, the good and not so good, the health benefits and risks, and how we can have a healthier relationship with this food group.

Carbs are a big group. They include healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole-grains. Fruits, vegetables and lentils form the basis of most well-known healthy diets. Grains however, are increasingly becoming exposed to more and more scrutiny.

Wholegrains (i.e. a grain in its whole state) are considered an important source of fibre and nutrients including B vitamins and some minerals. For healthy individuals, without immune or digestive problems, most wholegrains can be a good food choice. Think brown or wild rice, buckwheat, quinoa, barley, rye, millet and oats.  Wheat in its whole state is also a wholegrain, but here we start to notice more health issues for many, due to gluten content and the way it has been farmed (a topic for another time).

The topic of grains gets a whole heap more controversial and less healthy, when we consider that often times we eat them in a refined state, for example, the bran (fibre), germ and endosperm (the nutrient dense parts of the grain) are removed, leaving behind a dense white starch or flour, then used to make pasta and bakery items etc. With the best parts of the grain removed, this refined starch is not that different to sugar when it comes to how it impacts the body.  It negatively affects sugar levels, erodes immunity and causes inflammation (which is the main driver of all chronic disease states).

The biggest problem with carbs however lies with baked goods such as cakes, biscuits and pastries. These tasty concoctions are made from a lethal combination of refined flour, fat, sugar and salt. They are loaded with taste and are the foods we use as treats, rewards and celebration. They are also the foods that we use to comfort ourselves when we are feeling alone, deprived and flat. Incidentally, this combination of fats and carbs is never found in nature.

What is it about these foods that make them so addictive? The answer lies in its effect on our brain chemistry. These high-carb, processed and highly palatable foods stimulate the reward centre in our brain, triggering the release of dopamine and other feel good chemicals. The taste and the brain rush feels so good, it leaves you wanting more. Leading to hedonic eating – the compulsion to eat for pleasure, resulting in excessive eating and weight gain (and a host of associated health problems).  Incidentally, this combination of fats, carbs, salt and sugar is not found anywhere in nature. It’s a man-made concoction of ingredients that has bypassed our normal feedback systems and is wreaking havoc on our bodies and our health.

And just like an addiction, when you try to remove these ‘problem foods’ from the diet, you can potentially end up experiencing withdrawal symptoms, including a sense of sadness, feeling blue, anxiety and loss of meaning/ sense of purpose. This is one of the main reasons so many people find it hard to give up these foods. 

If you are experiencing either weight or health issues, having an honest look at your relationship with processed carbohydrates is a great place to start. Removing these foods from your diet is a good first step to help your body restore balance.

If you would like to take the first steps in changing dietary habits to experience great health, come and join me in my FREE 7 day detox. We kickstart after the Labour day public holiday on 3 May. Every day, we will be covering different strategies to help you clean up your diet so that your body has the best chance possible at cleansing and restoring its balance. All this will be happening in my Facebook group , “40 Plus Women’s Health”. Just click here to join

Live your best life,


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