Food that makes you hungry

While I was studying for my degree in nutrition, a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet was strongly emphasized. We did some obsessive calculations to make sure our menus do not contain more than 30% of calories from fat (this may not seem very low, but it is when you consider that fat contains twice more calories, per weight unit, than protein or carbohydrates). Cholesterol was to be feared, hated and avoided at all costs: thus, low-fat meat and dairy products, yolk-less omelettes, and not a word about cream and butter.

On the other hand, there was a surprisingly lenient attitude towards sugar and refined carbohydrates, and in general the outlook on food was very skeletal, taking into account primarily the basic units of calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat. The underlying message was that it’s acceptable to eat an overprocessed, nutrient-deficient diet and compensate for it with supplements and artificially enriched foods. Some of our professors went even as far as to say that in the modern world, it’s virtually “impossible” to get all the essential nutrients without a multivitamin supplement.

My attitude is vastly different today, years after I first came across Nourishing Traditions and other literature that emphasized the deficiencies of modern nutrition. I am now an advocate for wholesome foods prepared in the home kitchen from basic natural ingredients and consumed in their whole, unrefined state. I quit being a vegetarian, we eat a lot more animal fat than we used to, particularly more butter, and in about five or six years since starting this dietary change, we haven’t seen an increase in either weight or cholesterol levels.

The low-fat dietary trend does seem to be sputtering out in the professional circles, but decades of propaganda aren’t so easy to ignore. A lot of people are still wary of eggs and think margarine is superior to butter because it doesn’t contain cholesterol. On the other hand, there is little discussion of how to avoid refined sugar, and the prevalent opinion is that a bit of indulgence in that quarter is harmless unless you are a diabetic. What people don’t seem to realize is that type 2 diabetes doesn’t just spring out of the blue; it takes years of unhealthy eating and insulin imbalance to get there, and if you indulge in sugar, you are at risk.

Reading Sugar Blues, by William Dufty, made me acknowledge two important facts: one, sugar really is addictive, and two, I’m one of the addicts.

For many, many people, eating one square of chocolate, one cookie or one scoop of ice-cream isn’t enough. They want more and more, until they feel sick. There are two reasons for this. The first is that eating sugar causes an upsurge of insulin, which makes sugar enter the cells quickly: thus, the blood sugar level peaks and then quickly drops, making you want to eat more sugar. When your blood sugar is low, you feel hungry; sugary foods will never make you full and satisfied in a healthy, wholesome way.

The second reason is that sugar acts upon a reward center in the brain. “Normal” food acts upon it too, making us feel satisfied after a good meal, but sugary food has a more powerful effect. And when you get used to sugar, it gets more and more difficult to stimulate the reward center with normal food (just like in Narnia, when Edmund wants nothing but Turkish Delight after tasting the enchanted sweet). It takes a period of detox to rewire your brain and make it possible to appreciate and enjoy simple basic food again.

Sugar addiction is not of a kind to make you crouch in a dark alley, looking for a dealer. It isn’t about to send you into rehab or make the social workers take your children away. The stuff is waiting for you everywhere – at supermarket aisles, coffee shops, family dinners, children’s birthday parties. It looks innocent and inviting and is socially sanctioned. Nevertheless, if you spend hours thinking of and longing for the dessert you are going to eat, or battling your sweet cravings, that is addiction.

What I find really helpful is to have alternative “reward foods” around in place of sugar – fresh and dried fruit, unsweetened fruit leathers, nuts of all kinds, good cheese, very dark chocolate with no added sugar. These take away the emotional aspect of feeling deprived when you can’t have your favorite treats. I do hope that my husband will become, in time, as convicted about the issue of sugar and refined carbohydrates as I am, and that these unhealthy foods will disappear from our pantry shelves forever.

Because of early conditioning, I am probably going to continue fighting my sugar cravings for the rest of my life. But at least now I know what I’m up against, and also how important it is to win this battle. A chocolate bar is on one side of the scale. On the other side are my health, strength, well-being, energy and mood. Put this way, the choice really is obvious.

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14 thoughts on “Food that makes you hungry

  1. Hi Anna, this is Mother Charlotte from Backwoods Home. 🙂

    This is an excellent post. You didn’t mention how long ago it was that you were taking your degree in nutrition. I wonder if they are still teaching this outdated, incorrect information in universities? I am willing to believe that they are. I was very disappointed when, three years ago, my dad had a heart attack, and was promptly instructed by his doctors to remove as much fat and cholesterol from his diet as possible, to avoid eggs, and to eat margarine instead of butter! He is even careful not to “indulge” too much in the farm fresh eggs I give him, which makes me sad.

    As for me, I was experiencing a lot of chest pains a few years ago which turned out to be due to extreme anemia. I went through a round of testing for my heart, though, and everything turned out perfect. My doctor said my cholesterol levels and whatever else they tested my blood for was perfect. My heart is very healthy. Yet I avoid margarine, I use butter liberally in all my cooking and baking, and I eat from 2 to 5 eggs per day. And I am definitely not vegetarian – I eat meat every day. The idea that eating cholesterol causes heart disease is simply not true.

    I think I have a similar situation to you regarding sugar. I grew up in a home where we ate A LOT of sugar – we literally used to eat an ice cream sundae every single night. I was sick a lot as a young kid and I think it’s because our diet wasn’t very healthy. Today, I try hard to limit my sugar intake but the cravings are pretty hard to take, especially where chocolate is concerned! Like you I find that if I eat something sweet but not too sweet – a bit of dark chocolate, some yogurt, or maybe some toast and jam – my craving is satisfied. I need to avoid too much sugar anyway because ever since my mid-20’s, my blood sugar has been very unstable and eating too many sweets makes the problem much worse.

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    • Laura Jeanne, thanks for visiting! It’s great to hear from you. I graduated nine years ago (I can hardly believe it…) and I can readily imagine that the study program had been updated to take newer research into account. However, some dogmas that have been around for a long time are hard to get over.

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  2. A couple thoughts garnered from 40 yrs of practicing general medicine, applying the basic science I learned and not just using the “cookbook” dictated by the lawyers:

    a) everybody is different, so a simple instruction book on eating right is not possible.

    2) Vets have known this for yrs. Medical doctors are just starting to catch on: every stable has one “easy keeper” out of every 50 horses or so. They seem to maintain body weight on only half the rations as the other horses. If you feed them full rations, they become diabetic.Those easy keeper genes have value in the wild: they can survive longer when food is scarce. Humans probably have evolved with the same thing:.

    C)That’s why diabetes (Type II) is so prevalent. Diabetes is a classic interaction of Nature & Nurture. To show diabetes, one must first have the genes, and then be exposed to excess carbs. Just like alcoholism where the treatment is don;t drink and you won’t develop the problems of alcoholism. Same with diabetes: don;t eat so much and you won’t run high BS and develop complications.

    IV) When fat is coming in with the diet, no need to “save” fat. When fat is scarce, then times must be bad and the body shifts into “save energy mode” because the next good meal may not be forthcoming. The biologic signal for this shift in metabolism is insulin. Our evolutionary forefathers only ate weeds when game was scarce. Weeds have carbs; meat doesn’t. The REAL physiological purpose of insulin is to stimulate lipogenesis and inhibit lipolysis. Although we were all taught that we need insulin “to get glucose into cells,” the only organ that REQUIRES insulin is the kidney.

    e) Cholesterol as a risk factor for atherosclerosis is a giant hoax. A statistician calculated that lowering your chol from 300 mg% to 200 would add 3 weeks to your life, according to the data. BFD. Cholesterol tastes great. Don’t avoid it. Many studies show that chol levels actually are higher on the low fat diet than on the low CHO diet.

    –Tim

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    • Tim, I have actually never thought of insulin in these terms, but what you say makes perfect sense. And even our professors had admitted that most of our cholesterol is endogenic and does not come from the diet. So why go on an unpalatable diet? Nobody had a satisfactory reply. Also it’s true that one diet can’t fit all. There is huge diversity between ethnic diets around the world.

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  3. This article has so much wisdom! I definitely remember the “low fat” craze. I developed reactive hypoglycemia, and my very wise doctor told me to avoid the “whites”. I still can’t have fruit without some fat or protein or I get really dizzy in a short time. What is sad is that there is so much added sugar in almost everything! No wonder our society is becoming ill and obese.

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    • Linda, I really think the best and surest way to avoid added sugar is to make as much as you can from scratch. Food manufacturers sneak sugar into pretty much anything, even things that don’t really need it, as a cheap flavor-enhancer and shelf-life-extender.

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      • It’s not so ,much the simple sugars that make us fat– it’s the starches. A sandwich using two slices of bread is equivalent to 8 tsp of sugar, and a serving of pasta has carbs equal to 10 tsp of sugar. Would you sit and eat that much sugar by the spoonful?.. No– but how often do we eat a second helping of spaghetti? A whole cup of grapes, OTOH, has only 4 tsp worth of sugar.

        ==Tim

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      • Tim, I agree that starches can be as bad as sugars, but it depends. I wouldn’t compare, for example, a slice of commercial white bread to a slice of whole-grain properly prepared sourdough bread. The fiber in whole grains slows the breakdown of starch into sugar, as well as its absorption. And of course it’s a lot better when the meal also contains high-quality protein and fat.

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  4. Anna, thank you for blogging about ‘The Sugar Blues’ in the first place. I read it online as soon as I could find it and after quitting sugar my over-emotional menopausal life existed no more.

    For a long time I’ve been believing that we ‘know’ what we need – our body tells us. Of course this belief excludes any addiction, which I see as an unbalanced state of mind. The strangest food I have craved was sauerkraut brine (liquid) and no, I was not pregnant at that time. Of course it is best to eat natural wholesome foods, but it can be depressing if you don’t use your common sense. No need to feel bad if you can’t feed your family with organic fair-trade everything, including the fashionable choice of oil of that year, just because they are not sold in the country you live in. You can still survive 🙂 And as I believe body and soul go together, it is so important how you speak to yourself about food. It is ‘healthier’ be grateful than feed yourself with guilt of an occasional brownie.

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    • Miriam, I think that in our original, wholesome and balanced state, food cravings were indeed supposed to be something natural – an indication of a need. However, now our world is so warped and tainted we can’t trust our instincts anymore (take the craving for sweets, for example). I agree that being guilt-ridden doesn’t do one any good. The key is trying to improve.

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      • I think we not only can, but must trust our instincts. View them through your knowledge. You know sugar is bad, so you are able to decide that even though your instinct tells you to eat sugar, you can choose not to and tackle the roots of the craving instead. It is not just what sugar does to our bodies but there are emotional problems always involved in any addiction. When the problem is solved there’s no need for symptoms (‘wrong’ cravings) anymore and instincts get straightened and on-course. This is what Elohai Neshama Blessing tells me. G-d created us to be capable of doing things beyond our physical limits. So no need to feel helpless in our not so perfect world. 🙂

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  5. I’m not diabetic, but I did read someplace that your body processes egg whites the same way it handles sugar, and an egg-white omelet is the worst thing a person can eat. I’ve never thought much of the idea, as there is no nourishment – or taste! – in an egg white, and there’s something in me that balks at the idea of tossing half an egg.

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    • This doesn’t really make sense, as egg whites and sugar are vastly different from a nutritional standpoint… but anyway the yolk is healthy and nutritious and definitely shouldn’t be tossed!

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