Underestimating the Power of Refined Foods
by Pavlina Cavojska, RHN
Holistic Nutritionist, Live Blood Cell Analyst and Weight Loss Specialist
It never ceases to amaze me how perfect and well orchestrated our bodies really are. When we find ourselves in a “pickle” situation – whether some kind of acute emergency or just stressors of our day to day lives, our body has the ability to adapt to a situation and make it work to it’s best ability.
The same principle applies to times when we don’t have any food available, it has the ability to adapt by slowing down our metabolism and make it do with less calories until we have food available again.
However, it turns out, that our bodies struggle at adapting to heavily processed and refined calories that are ever so present and abundant in our modern way of eating.
Let’s start with refined sugar and its effects on our health and weight loss.
Refining sugar is a process where natural sources of sugar such as sugar cane, sugar beets and corn are stripped of all nutrients and fibers and purified into a fine powder (or in case of corn into high fructose corn syrup – a thick liquid) – and now you have a “drug”. You have taken a food and you have turned it into an addictive substance that affects the brain in a very particular “drug-like” way.
Based on this effect, many experts call sugar a number 1 drug of choice…
Let’s have a look at the sugar story…
Refined sugar did not enter our diets until the late 1700s. It was difficult to access, was believed to be beneficial to health and it was only available to elite classes who could afford it. By 1700 average consumption of sugar in the developed world was approximately 4 pounds per annum and this accounted for less than 1% of calorie intake.
By 1800 this had risen to approximately 18 pounds and by 1900 it was 60 pounds. However, it was not long after its popularization that experts began to question the value of sugar to human health.
After World War II with mechanizing food production, consumption of sugar started to skyrocket.
According to statcan.gc.ca, on average, in 2004, Canadians consumed 110.0 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons (88 lbs per person/per year!) This amounts to 21.4% of their total daily calorie intake. Low cost, availability and delicious/addictive taste contributed to sugar becoming the “number one drug of choice” in our society.
“This is not a theory. A very large body of scientific research confirms that processed foods light up the very same addiction pathways in the brain as heroin and cocaine. And when food addiction researchers ask people to list the foods that they crave, that they obsess about, and that they eat more of than they planned, those foods fall into two broad categories: sugar products like candy, chocolate, ice cream, cake, soda, and cookies, and flour products like pizza, pasta, bread, bagels, crackers, and chips. It’s no coincidence that as the prevalence of refined powders in our food supply has increased, obesity rates have soared. In fact today, 80% of the 600,000 foods available on supermarket shelves are laced with added sugar alone”. (Dr. Susan Peirce, Bright line eating)
Let’s look at some example studies done on the effects of sugar on brain :
- Studies have shown that refined sugar consumption leads to a series of behaviors similar to the effects of drugs of abuse. These are categorized as “bingeing”, meaning unusually large bouts of intake, opiate-like “withdrawal” indicated by signs of anxiety and behavioral depression and “craving” measured during sugar abstinence as enhanced responding for sugar. (10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019)
- According to researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), excessive sugar consumption increases the dopamine levels in a similar way to other drugs such as cocaine.This study found that long-term consumption of sugar will eventually cause a reduction in dopamine levels. That means, they say, people need to consume higher and higher levels of sugar in order to reach the same reward levels and avoid mild states of depression.
Sound like something you have experienced before? …small amount of sugar that leads to more cravings and further to more and more sugar eating..? I know I have….
But refined sugar is not the whole story. How do they make white flour?
In this case, a number of plants can be used. To make flour they simply take the inner essence of any grain and refine and purify it into a white powder. If you are like most people, the foods that cause you cravings are not in their original, out-of-the-ground form. Odds are that you crave foods made from the ubiquitous fine powders manufactured by the food industry.
As Michael Pollan puts it, they’re not really foods anymore at all but rather “edible food-like substances.”
Foods that are in their whole, unadulterated state interact in the brain the way nature intended. In contrast, “edible food-like substances” made out of sugar and flour release an unnatural flood of dopamine that hijacks the pleasure centers in the brain and cause cravings.
The unfair truth is that not everyone is equally susceptible to the addictive properties of these “edible food-like substances.”
This makes sense, if you think about it. We know that alcohol is addictive, but plenty of people can have a drink here and there, even every day, and never develop alcoholism. Caffeine is addictive, but some folks can have coffee or tea when they want a pick-me-up and not get hooked. Some people can smoke cigarettes or cigars once in a while and never develop the habit.
In much the same way, many people are just not very susceptible to the addictive properties of refined foods.
I personally fall into the highly addictive one and need to make it a priority to avoid trigger foods to stay on track. Which category do you think you fall into? Addictive, take it or leave it or somewhere in between?
What is the lesson here?
Learning that refined sugar and flour will create a strong addictive pull and sabotage our weight loss efforts by making us want to eat more, you now have the power to break that vicious cycle. Eliminating completely those trigger foods is a necessary part of your journey that will lead to success. It will be hard at the beginning, but trust me, as you go through “withdrawal” symptoms and adjust to eating whole foods, the pull will have less and less power over you.
What does it take? …Making a commitment to yourself to stay away from refined sugar/flour day in and day out.
Let’s look at some ways to get rid of refined and bring in wholesome
- Get rid of any candy, chocolate and so called “cereal or snack bars” that might be lurking in your cupboards…or are you keeping them for the kids only? No need, remember if they are a problem for you, they will become problem for them in no time…Substitution: eat whole fruits, freeze grapes and use as candies, make fruit puree, fruit shakes and Smoothies, raw brownies (check out the recipe at the end)
- Eliminate soda cans regular or diet together with fruit juices (diet versions are just as dangerous as sugar!) – if you feel like you are wasting your money throwing it away, donate it. Substitution : if feeling like having something fizzy, sweet and refreshing, make a homemade lemonade with fresh lemons and stevia, add sparkling mineral water or low sodium soda water and voila! Tastes awesome!!! Mix with some fresh grated ginger for some gingerale 🙂
- Put a stop to buying white breads, white rice, muffins, cakes, pastas, cookies, crackers, etc… that are made with the processed and refined stuff. Substitution for baking: Use whole flours to make homemade treats: sprouted or stone ground spelt flour, bean flours, buckwheat, millet, quinoa flours, etc…check out the local bulk food stores for best deals. Best choices for bread (if needed): sprouted or fermented varieties are your best bet.
Remember, You have the power to take your health back! One step at a time! And weight loss will follow…..
Raw brownie recipe:
2 cups walnuts, whole
3 cups Medjool dates, pitted
1 cup raw cocoa powder
½ cup hemp seed
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp Celtic sea salt
½ cup virgin coconut oil, melted
½ cup raw cacao powder
¼ cup maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
- Place the 2 cups of walnuts into a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground
- Add the hemp seeds, cacao, cinnamon, and salt and process until combined
- Add the dates and process until the dough becomes sticky. It should easily stick together when you press it with your fingers If it is not sticky enough and the mixture does not hold together, add more dates.
- Stir in the chopped walnuts until combined
- Press the mixture into an 8-inch square pan lined with parchment paper. Id it sticks to your hands, wet your hands. Once evenly pressed, place the brownies in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes.
Stir in the chopped walnuts until combined.
- Melt the coconut oil over medium heat in a small pot, Then whisk in the cacao powder, maple syrup, and sea salt until well combined.
- Remove the brownies from the freezer and pour over the chocolate, If you have a lot of chocolate, put the brownies back into the freezer for the chocolate to firm up a little bit. Then take them out again and pour on the rest of the chocolate to create even a thicker layer. Place the brownies back in the freezer for about 15 minutes before cutting.
- To cut the brownies run hot water over a knife for a few seconds and slowly slide the knife into the brownies. Store in freezer or fridge. ENJOY!