12 January - 20 June 2016

Food addiction

3 July 13

Highly processed foods could be addictive, new research in the US has found.  In new brain imaging research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, carried out at Boston Children’s Hospital, a team led by David Ludwig, MD, PhD, found that limiting these “high-glycemic index” foods could help obese individuals avoid overeating.  The researchers used functional (“real time”) MRI to observe the brain activity of 12 overweight or obese men during the crucial four hours after they ate a meal, a period that experts say influences eating behaviour during the next meal.  The participants’ blood sugar levels and hunger were also measured during this time.  The men’s “meals” were two milkshakes that had the same calories, taste and sweetness.  The only difference was that one milkshake contained high-glycemic index carbohydrates and the other had low-glycemic index carbohydrates.  High-glycemic index carbohydrates – which are quickly transformed into sugar in the blood – are found in highly processed foods such as white bread and white rice.  Low-glycemic index carbohydrates are found in items such as whole wheat products and sweet potatoes.  After participants consumed the high-glycemic index milkshake, they experienced an initial surge in blood sugar levels, followed by a sharp crash four hours later.  This decrease in blood glucose was associated with excessive hunger and intense activation of the nucleus accumbens, a critical brain region involved in addictive behaviours.  Dr Ludwig suggests that limiting high-glycemic index carbohydrates like white bread and potatoes could help obese individuals reduce cravings and control the urge to overeat. 

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