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Mechanisms of Sugar Addiction: Or, Why You're Addicted To Bread
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June 20, 2013
12:20 am
Valencia
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This was very insightful! I am not a scientifically inclined person, but everything made sense. I will be making moves to shake my bread addiction, thanks!

June 20, 2013
3:43 am
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Valencia:

Thank you!  For a comprehensive program that will help you improve your health in many more ways, read my guide "Eat Like A Predator, Not Like Prey."

JS

July 9, 2013
9:24 am
Nina
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Hi,

I'm a naturally very skinny person at 5'8.5" 115 lbs (a BMI of 17 which is considered underweight). My body fat measurement has gotten as low as 13% according to a hand-held analyzer. Regardless of what I eat or don't eat, my weight does not fluctuate more than 4 pounds. I am trying to break my sugar addiction. Can I do that safely with no fat reserves to burn? Do I 'need' sugars more than people who have fat stores? If I cut 'carbs' and refined sugar from my diet, what can I replace it with to help maintain energy?

Thanks!

July 9, 2013
4:44 pm
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Nina:

Even at 13% bodyfat (which is very low for a woman) you've still got well over 50,000 "calories" worth of fat reserves.

I'm in a similar situation: it's nearly impossible for me to gain weight unless I let myself drink a lot of soda and eat lots of bready junk food, and even then I don't gain much. 

The biggest advantage for me of breaking my sugar addiction has been that I used to have to eat every three hours or I became cranky and irritable.  Now I usually eat only 1-2 meals per day...it's wonderful not being forced to interrupt what I'm doing to find food every few hours.

So yes, you can safely break your sugar addiction so long as you're eating enough other food to keep your body happy.  If you find yourself losing too much weight, eat more...and if that doesn't work, start drinking half and half (heavy cream, if you're lactose intolerant) or eating more potatoes and rice.  My general eating strategy, by which I've enabled myself and many others to shake their sugar addiction, is here: Eat Like A Predator.

JS

September 9, 2013
8:49 am
DODAH
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Paleolithic people had a much lower life expectancy in part caused by deficiencies in diet amongst other things.

Paleolithic humans included Neanderthal and look what happened to them!

I'm sure there is some truth in the adage that too many carbs are bad for you but romanticizing a diet based on ancient history is just silly. Why not base it on the millions of years of evolution of apes and that would show that diet should be 100% sugar based. sloppy logic at work here.

Eat everything in moderation, at a calorie maintenance level, regular exercise, lots of water. Its really not hard.

Dr C Van Bardelbum

September 10, 2013
11:39 pm
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DODAH:

Your sources, whatever they are, are factually incorrect.

1. Paleolithic people, in all cases for which we have evidence, had longer lifespans than the agriculturalists who followed them.

2. Their teeth and bones were far more robust, and show no evidence of chronic malnutrition -- unlike agriculturalists, whose remains show extensive dental caries (cavities), porotic hyperostosis (from iron-deficiency anemia, i.e. not enough meat), etc.

More information here: Indian Knoll vs. Hardin Village

"Why not base it on the millions of years of evolution of apes and that would show that diet should be 100% sugar based."

If you're happy being a 60-pound proto-chimpanzee that is limited to living in equatorial forests, and has a tiny 300cc brain incapable of making even the most basic stone tools, go right ahead!  The rest of us left that behind about six million years ago -- in favor of an existence requiring both more brainpower and enough meat to support it.  See my series-in-progress "Big Brains Require An Explanation".

"Eat everything in moderation, at a calorie maintenance level, regular exercise, lots of water. Its really not hard."

If that were true, we wouldn't have an obesity epidemic!  

JS

December 15, 2013
9:23 am
nancy
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What about Gluten-Free Bread? Does it have the same effects as bread and carbs? Thanks!

December 17, 2013
1:08 am
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nancy:

"Gluten-free bread" can contain any number of ingredients, as there's no universally accepted way to make it.  (Typical contents include potato starch, rice flour, tapioca starch, sorghum flour, bean flour, cornstarch, ...)

However, it's all just processed carbohydrate -- and while gluten is unhealthy for several other reasons, the usual effect of simply substituting gluten-free junk for the junk you used to eat is a diminution of your savings account.  (Gluten-free bread and cracker substitutes are expensive!)  It's best to substitute the bready junk you used to eat with real food -- meat, fish, eggs, vegetables (including root vegetables), some nuts and fruits.  Eat like a predator, not like prey.  

That being said, gluten-free junk is less bad for us than gluten-based junk, and I do indulge in an occasional treat...but it's still processed "carbohydrate" (sugar).

JS

December 21, 2013
1:01 pm
kazy
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I find this article incredibly informative. I do have a questions regarding 2 foods: croissants and chocolate. You said: "When we take fat out of our diet and replace it with ‘carbohydrates’ (sugars), the glycemic index of the food we eat goes up dramatically." That slabbing butter on your toast lowers the GI. Or if you're eating some bread but having eggs and sausage, it changes to carb effect on your glucose. So what about croissants which are traditionally baked with tons of butter? Would that put them in a "better" or different category than Ezekiel bread?
Then there's chocolate. Sweet, yes, but I've heard dark chocolate on occasion is not bad.
My last comment is you said: "blacks in America have a higher rate of obesity and diabetes than whites despite a more recent African origin." But that has more to do with the cheaper processed foods in this country that is available to them. Not something they would eat living in Africa. Much in the same way Hispanics from Mexico and South America develop high rates of diabetes once the come to the US and indulge in the food supply of our food industry, where they didn't have any record of diabetes back in their home of origin.

December 22, 2013
3:02 am
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kazy:

Blood sugar spikes and crashes are only one contributor to hunger and weight gain: nutrition is a primary driver, as I've shown in my presentation "Why Are We Hungry?"  (Print articles here.)  So while slathering butter on a croissant does blunt the blood sugar spike (and adds at least a little bit of fat-soluble nutrition), substituting the white flour-based croissant with food that isn't just empty calories will keep you less hungry and produce better results.

To that end, sprouted bread will indeed be superior to other breads, but even the humble potato will provide superior nutrition -- and whole eggs, meat, and vegetables will be even better still. 

I agree that dark chocolate in moderation isn't a bad thing: the darker it is, the less sugar it contains vs. cocoa butter, antioxidants, and the odd stimulant and euphoric.  My current favorite is the Lindt 90%.

"But that has more to do with the cheaper processed foods in this country that is available to them. Not something they would eat living in Africa."

I agree.  Indigenous populations, whether Native American, Australian Aboriginal, or Pacific Islander, suffer much more from obesity, diabetes, and other "diseases of civilization" upon adopting a diet of processed industrial Western food than Westerners do -- whether they adopt the processed industrial diet in their homeland or upon moving to the West. 

JS

June 9, 2014
12:09 pm
Gnoll
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The problem I find with this article is that J. Stanton points out something and says it always leads to this. I have never experienced an addiction to whole-wheat (I have to white bread but that is unhealthier) and I know plenty of others who haven't as well. You say that people gain weight from being addicted to grains? I have never seen anyone addicted to just plain whole-grain bread with nothing on it. A lot of people I know never eat anything whole-grain.
And heres the thing, I have and my family love white rolls. But I wouldn't eat them plain. I would only eat more than 1 if they are buttered up. I'd say fats are more addictive than complex carbohydrates in my experience.
Also, I have a question. J. Stanton, you say that we should eat more meat and eat it with every meal. Why should I eat (red (which is what you recommend)) meat if my stomach and guts feel bad. Why is our digestive system more like an herbivore's than a carnivore's? For example, human teeth aren't nearly as sharp as a carnivore's. I'm also pretty sure our stomach acid is much much weaker than a carnivore's. Our digestive tract is also much longer than a carnivore or even an omnivore that is mostly carnivoristic.

July 2, 2014
10:33 pm
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Skgr:

I don't content that a high-carb diet always causes metabolic inflexibility -- that's clearly not the case, and a combination of other factors Including genetic susceptibility) must also occur.

Also, I would be careful about generalizing your and your family's experience to the rest of the world: I've received many communications from people who find carbohydrate of any type addictive, regardless of taste.

Finally, our guts are NOT more like an herbivore's than a carnivore's: our stomach acid is just as strong as a carnivore's, and our digestive tract is NOT "much longer than a carnivore's." (Further discussion, including links to scientific literature, here.) Nor do we have a rumen or a cecum, necessary to extract significant energy from vegetation (the rumen and cecum are places where bacteria ferment vegetation into SCFAs.) And we don't need huge teeth, as we've been using sharp rocks for over 3 million years.

JS

July 5, 2014
7:43 pm
Gnoll
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J. Stanton said

Skgr:

I don't content that a high-carb diet always causes metabolic inflexibility -- that's clearly not the case, and a combination of other factors Including genetic susceptibility) must also occur.

Also, I would be careful about generalizing your and your family's experience to the rest of the world: I've received many communications from people who find carbohydrate of any type addictive, regardless of taste.

Finally, our guts are NOT more like an herbivore's than a carnivore's: our stomach acid is just as strong as a carnivore's, and our digestive tract is NOT "much longer than a carnivore's." (Further discussion, including links to scientific literature, here.) Nor do we have a rumen or a cecum, necessary to extract significant energy from vegetation (the rumen and cecum are places where bacteria ferment vegetation into SCFAs.) And we don't need huge teeth, as we've been using sharp rocks for over 3 million years.

JS

First off, thank you for pointing out all those inaccuracies. I do have a few more to ask you about but first, a question. Do you believe that humans are primarily carnivorous (about 75% animal based foods and 25% plant based) or omnivores that eat about equal amounts of animal and plant materials. (Please note, I'm not asking this based off of mass but off of caloric energy).

Doesn't our saliva contain amylase, an enzyme that breaks down amylose (a complex carbohydrate)? It would make sense if humans were 50/50 omnivores but not if we were primarily carnivorous. Also, why do we have the ability to move our jaw left and right (presumably to grind up plant matter) if we are primarily carnivorous? Do you think that the paleo diet is suitable for all modern humans?

This is off topic though but why do (not all) vegetarians and vegans report success with their diet in the long term? I understand that vegans can "cheat" with supplements but what about lacto-ovo vegetarians that don't supplement any nutrients?

July 13, 2014
8:54 am
Gnoll
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Also, I noticed in this article you say bread=skittles. Skittles are almost purely sugar with no nutritional value. Bread on the other hand, has many different vitamins and fiber. If you are going by glycemic index, yeah, they're the same, but, using the analogy "Bread=Skittles" makes it seem like they are equivalent to each other in nutrients when they're not.

July 16, 2014
7:42 am
Wilbert
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Good article. I'm experiencing some of these issues as well..

July 20, 2014
12:22 pm
Gnoll
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J. Stanton said

Skgr:
Finally, our guts are NOT more like an herbivore's than a carnivore's: our stomach acid is just as strong as a carnivore's, and our digestive tract is NOT "much longer than a carnivore's." (Further discussion, including links to scientific literature, here.) Nor do we have a rumen or a cecum, necessary to extract significant energy from vegetation (the rumen and cecum are places where bacteria ferment vegetation into SCFAs.) And we don't need huge teeth, as we've been using sharp rocks for over 3 million years.

JS

Due to recent information I have found, I no longer agree with two of these points.

About the length of GI tract compared to body length: When we are talking about body LENGTH (shoulders to hips) we have to remember not to measure human height. If we compared our GI tract to height it would indeed be 3.2 to 5.2x the height of a human. If we compare our GI tract to body length it would be about the same ratio as an herbivore's. So our GI tract is much longer than a carnivore's, and it is about the same length (in proportion of course) as a herbivore's is to its body length.

Not all herbivores need a rumen and cecum. A rumen and cecum are needed for when plant material with loads of cellulose are eaten. (Leaves, stems, grasses.) Other herbivores only need a single chambered stomach. These herbivores eat (Fruit, nuts, seeds, some leaves (i.e vegetables that provide fiber in the form of cellulose) tubers, mushrooms, et cetera).

I believe that humans evolved to eat whatever is available. Some Paleolithic humans ate more meat (such as the Inuit) while others ate a significant amount of plant matter (can't remember the names of the people that ate like this but I believe they lived in South America, Africa, and Asia). That's why humans can find success in multiple diets from Paleo, to Vegetarianism, and more rarely, Veganism.

August 7, 2014
9:16 am
Gnoll
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@J. Stanton
Just wondering if I'll get a reply soon. I'm looking forward to discussing this topic with you.

September 10, 2014
4:08 am
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Skgr:

I've been very busy this summer, primarily with my 2014 AHS presentation, and am just now catching up with all the unanswered comments -- including yours.

"Do you believe that humans are primarily carnivorous (about 75% animal based foods and 25% plant based) or omnivores that eat about equal amounts of animal and plant materials. (Please note, I'm not asking this based off of mass but off of caloric energy)."

Humans, as we collectively exist today, can survive off of a wide range of diets. That being said, I believe the optimal diet generally involves a higher percentage of calories from animal sources (including fish and shellfish) than from plant sources -- and that the plant-source calories should be from plants (e.g. vegetables and tubers) and not acellular carbohydrates (e.g. grains and sugars).

I contend this from several angles:
1. It's the most parsimonious interpretation of the archaeological evidence
2. The nutrient density of animal foods is far higher
3. Our digestive and metabolic systems are not great at interconverting nutrients, unlike those of an herbivore (which ferments cellulose to SCFAs) or a pure carnivore (which is much better at gluconeogenesis)
4. Humans are incompletely adapted to high-starch diets (see below)
5. 40 years of low-fat dietary recommendations, and the shift from animal to seed-sourced fats, has made America fatter than ever

"Doesn't our saliva contain amylase, an enzyme that breaks down amylose (a complex carbohydrate)?"

Yes, it does. So does the chimpanzee, which is primarily frugivorous and thus has little use for salivary amylase: thus it only has one copy of the AMY1 gene. Most interestingly, the amount of amylase humans produce varies dramatically between different people:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2377015/
"individuals from populations with high-starch diets have on average more AMY1 copies than those with traditionally low-starch diets."

J Nutr. 2012 May;142(5):853-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.156984. Epub 2012 Apr 4.
High endogenous salivary amylase activity is associated with improved glycemic homeostasis following starch ingestion in adults.
Mandel AL1, Breslin PA.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22492122
"HA individuals had significantly more AMY1 gene copies within their genomes than did the LA individuals. We found that following starch ingestion, HA individuals had significantly lower postprandial blood glucose concentrations at 45, 60, and 75 min, as well as significantly lower AUC and peak blood glucose concentrations than the LA individuals. [...] These observations are interpreted to suggest that HA individuals may be better adapted to ingest starches, whereas LA individuals may be at greater risk for insulin resistance and diabetes if chronically ingesting starch-rich diets."

Nat Genet. 2014 May;46(5):492-7. doi: 10.1038/ng.2939. Epub 2014 Mar 30.
Low copy number of the salivary amylase gene predisposes to obesity.
Falchi M et.al.
http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v46/n5/abs/ng.2939.html
"The OR value of 1.19 per copy of AMY1 translates into about an eightfold difference in risk of obesity between subjects in the top (copy number > 9) and bottom (copy number < 4) 10% of the copy number distribution."

In other words, the process of human adaptation to a high-starch diet is incomplete, suggesting it 1. took place very recently and 2. is still in progress. Do you know how many AMY1 gene copies you have? Why take the risk?

Re: GI tract length, you're not comparing apples to apples. If you only count the human torso as "body length", you must also only count the equine torso as "body length". This means you can't count the head and neck, and the average horse is no longer 8-10 feet long! The average horse's back is 1/3 body length, so add a bit for the part of the croup behind the peak, and we'll call it slightly over half body length. (Stretch out a horse's neck and head...they're quite long!) Result: horse intestine = 18-22x torso length.

In contrast, the average human torso is about two feet long, for about 10x-14x torso length...so the human's still substantially shorter in comparison. (I didn't see that the upper-bound 30 foot figure I linked previously includes the esophagus and stomach, so the intestine is perhaps 28 feet. The lower-bound figure of 20 feet doesn't change.)

However, I find the comparison between us and our closest primate relatives is far more relevant. Humans have a smaller gut in proportion to body size, and much more of it is dedicated to the small intestine. For instance, a (folivorous) gorilla's colon comprises over half of its gut, as does a (mostly frugivorous, with occasional meat) chimpanzee's. In contrast, our own colon only occupies 17% of our gut, strongly suggesting a greatly reduced intake of plant foods.
(Ref: Milton 2003, p. 99. http://books.google.com/books?id=xHYxSHr86T8C&lpg=PA93&lr&pg=PA99#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Yes, humans can usually survive on what's available: people regularly grow to adulthood on a diet of McNuggets, takeout pizza, and gas station burritos! Furhtermore, the ability to survive periods of low prey availability would have no doubt been strongly selected for, which is why we're omnivores, not pure carnivores. However, I'm concerned with what's optimal for health, not just what allows us to survive...and the evidence points me towards a primarily animal-based diet. (By calories, though perhaps not by weight depending on the source.)

JS

September 13, 2014
8:58 pm
Gnoll
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J. Stanton said
Humans, as we collectively exist today, can survive off of a wide range of diets. That being said, I believe the optimal diet generally involves a higher percentage of calories from animal sources (including fish and shellfish) than from plant sources -- and that the plant-source calories should be from plants (e.g. vegetables and tubers) and not acellular carbohydrates (e.g. grains and sugars).

I contend this from several angles:
1. It's the most parsimonious interpretation of the archaeological evidence
2. The nutrient density of animal foods is far higher
3. Our digestive and metabolic systems are not great at interconverting nutrients, unlike those of an herbivore (which ferments cellulose to SCFAs) or a pure carnivore (which is much better at gluconeogenesis)
4. Humans are incompletely adapted to high-starch diets (see below)
5. 40 years of low-fat dietary recommendations, and the shift from animal to seed-sourced fats, has made America fatter than ever
JS

1. Archaeological evidence concerning what early humans ate? If so, it is widely debatable on what Paleolithic humans ate. It is known that Paleolithic humans existed in a wide variety of environments which points to a wide variety of diets.
2. Not necessarily. Yes, organ meats can be dense in nutrients but, plant foods have a high nutrient density (excluding most grains). Foods like kale, broccoli, blueberries (most berries in general), many nuts, and some seeds (almonds).
3. Interconverting nutrients? What exactly does that mean? Why does our ineptness at interconverting nutrients mean we are better suited for a animal-based diet?
4. Response below (where you address it specifically)
5. I agree, fatty foods do not necessarily cause weight gain. Though, I don't agree that seed-based fats are the main problem. I blame processed foods in particular.

J. Stanton said
-Regarding amylase section-
JS

I cannot access the full paper (from nature.com). If that article describes why exactly low copy numbers of the AMY1 gene put people at a greater risk for obesity, I could give you a proper answer. Maybe somewhere on the net I can find similar information that is available to the public for free.

In response to the GI tract related part of the post:
I must ask, where are you getting these measurements for horses I can't seem to find any. I wanted to see if there was much variation over different herbivore's intestinal length to torso length.

Humans still share many resemblances with gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos regarding the GI tract. (Also, some of that data may not be reliable according to the note below the chart.)

In response to the rest of the post:

The SAD is an example of a diet that one can survive on (not thrive). (The SAD also comes with many health risks including obesity, high blood pressure, etc.) People have had success with all kinds of diets (vegan, vegetarian, paleo). Like I stated before, it should be assumed Paleolithic humans ate a wide variety of different diets (since they lived in a variety of environments). It is still unknown as to what their diets were like exactly but you can see that Eskimos are living healthily on their diet and the Kitavans are able to thrive on their diet. Genetics play a large factor in what the optimal diet is for a specific person. This is why a paleo diet can work for some but not others. Same with vegetarianism.

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