(Dis) Comfort Foods 2

Let’s continue with our discussion of comfort foods by talking about carbohydrate cravings, aka sugar cravings.  This is going to be a long post, but I believe well worth the read. Oh, and please be sure to follow up with post 1 on the subject.

As the name implies, a carb craving is the sudden and very overwhelming drive to consume carbohydrate-rich foods, such as breads, cakes, chocolate, cereal, cookies, crackers, fruit, ice cream, chips, pretzels, sugary soft-drinks, and popcorn.

Sugar substitutes, alcohol, and monosodium glutamate (M.S.G.) are known to trigger carb cravings; however, they’re most often caused by a rebound biochemical reaction to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), along with that infamous one-two punch we know all too well by now, low mood and stress.

For the record, I find it very interesting that many of the depression sufferers I see also report being hypoglycemic. Hmmm. Well, let me ask you a question. Ever bit your nails off over the desire to pound carbs when you were bummed or stressed? Come on, fess up.

Look, this stuff can become very confusing, very fast; so how ’bout we do a slow walk-through with regard to the workings of this carb-craving, fluctuating blood sugar business. As we take our walk, let’s operate under the assumption that low blood sugar, depression, and stress are in-the-moment presenting problems. Okay?

So, bammo, in response to these troublesome issues we find ourselves hitting the junk-carbs fast and furiously. As a result, our blood sugar level, and perhaps our mood, increases appreciably. Well, the surge in blood sugar leads to an increase in the production of insulin. Insulin, produced in the pancreas and known as the “hunger hormone,” now becomes a major player in that it manages the metabolism of carbohydrates, most notably glucose, a simple carbohydrate/sugar.

The hormone, glucagon, also produced in the pancreas, plays an important role as well, as it’s released when glucose levels are low. Glucagon causes the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose and release it into the bloodstream. This action is in opposition to that of insulin, which directs our cells to absorb glucose from the blood.

Well, when this rush of glucose hits home, insulin reacts with great speed and force, resulting in an immediate downward surge in blood sugar levels. This dynamic is known as functional or reactive hypoglycemia. For the record, the medical term for this business of excess insulin release after eating and drinking carb-rich foods and drinks is post-prandial reactive hyperinsulinemia, or just plain old hyperinsulinism. Some would say the term dysglycemia ought to be incorporated to account for unstable, not just low, glucose levels. At any rate, hyperinsulinism leads to reactive hypoglycemia. Whoa, huh?

Well, the really bad news is chronic hyperinsulinism can result in insulin resistance. And when that happens our bodies shut-down, if you will, in that insulin can no longer facilitate the introduction of food energy, in the form of glucose, to muscle, nerve, and organ cells.

As this occurs, on come the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of low blood sugar — more intense carb cravings, irritability, fatigue, trembling, headache, weakness, feeling faint, confusion, and the potential for panicky reactions to these and any number of internal and external stimuli. It’s interesting to note that epinephrine (adrenaline) is also playing a part in the presentation of these symptoms, as the body secretes excess amounts of it in an emergency reaction to alarmingly low blood sugar levels.

Oh, and by the way, since blood sugar can’t get to its targeted cells, it ends up being railroaded into fat cells, and that equals poundage. Worse yet, as this manic insulin ride continues, even the fat cells will ultimately shut-down; and with no place left to go blood sugar holes-up in the bloodstream. And that equals type 2 diabetes, often referred to as adult-onset diabetes.

Lots of information here, I know. But, haven’t you ever wondered why you may be pounding carbs? And what about the times you’d walk through a blizzard to secure chocolate?

Well, I know these questions were of great interest to me, and that’s what led to my research. There’s no doubt in my mind that each and every panic and anxiety sufferer is all the better for understanding these dynamics.