Posted On 14 Sep 2011
Is carbohydrate addiction a myth?
I don’t think so.
It’s possible to quibble about words. For everyday purposes, I’m satisfied with the idea that you are addicted to something if sudden withdrawal from it causes physical symptoms.
Using that definition, I read somewhere that 3 out of 4 North Americans are addicted to carbohydrates. Most obese people, most overweight people, and many people of normal weight suffer from carbohydrate addiction.
It’s easy to tell: dramatically cut down your daily grams of carbohydrates for 2 or 3 days and see if any withdrawal symptoms such as headache or cravings appear. Don’t exceed 20 grams of carbs per day – and 15 or even 10 would be better.
If just the thought of doing this frightens you, guess what? You already suspect that you suffer from carbohydrate addiction.
It’s an excellent addiction to break.
What is the minimum daily requirement for carbohydrates necessary for excellent health?
That’s correct: you don’t need to ingest any carbohydrates for good health.
The diseases of civilization such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, stroke, coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer are all diet related.
This became obvious to any thinking person during the 20th century as civilized peoples switched from fueling their bodies with natural fats (and proteins) to fueling them with carbohydrates (sugars and starches). For example, a century ago heart attacks were almost unknown, whereas today they are commonplace.
In truth, there’s no such thing as carbohydrate addiction. Rather, what happens when we ingest carbohydrates is that our bodies secrete chemicals in response to irritation from carbohydrates and we get addicted to those chemicals.
That’s rather like getting attached to having a sun tan: it’s not healthful but harmful and it’s completely unnecessary.
The key background idea is that our ancestors did not evolve eating carbohydrates. Yes, they are delicious and (temporarily) filling, but they are killing us.
That sounds very abstract until you have a long-time friend or relative dying prematurely from something completely unnecessary.
If you suffer from carbohydrate addiction or one or more of the diseases of civilization, what should you do?
Duh! Restrict carbohydrates.
It’s a bit like quitting a nicotine addiction. If you committed yourself to quitting smoking, would it be easier to taper off or to quick cold turkey?
Different people react differently. Nevertheless, the problem with tapering off is that you are feeding your addiction until the point where you quit completely. That means it’s a much longer process.
When I quit smoking cigarettes many, many years ago, I quit cold turkey. The first two weeks were uncomfortable, but that was a small price to pay for my freedom.
In theory, quitting a carbohydrate addiction cold turkey is the way to go. In two or three days, it’s likely that all the withdrawal symptoms will disappear forever. If it takes a bit longer than that, so what? What’s freedom worth?
If you allow yourself a carbohydrate treat once a day or once a week, what you’ll actually do is to keep yourself addicted. That’s more difficult than shifting your metabolism from burning sugars to burning fats once and for all.
Since the phytonutrients in (preferably organic) vegetables and fruits are valuable, I don’t recommend doing without carbohydrates completely. I enjoy some low-carb vegetables and, usually, berries every day.
I try to keep my daily total to 25 grams of carbohydrates or fewer. (That includes alcohol, too, which is really a kind of super-carbohydrate.)
That amount should delight your physician, but check first. (This assumes that your physician has a good understanding of nutrition, but that may not be true. When my father was in medical school he received very little instruction about nutrition, and my niece, who is currently in medical school, tells me that in that respect nothing has changed.)
If you might be suffering from carbohydrate addiction, I recommend testing yourself.
If you are, I recommend freeing yourself.
Nothing tastes as good as freedom.