I am hungry — What’s wrong with flour and sugar?


Melissa Killeen

What’s so bad about flour and sugar? Flour and sugar are the two most common substances to which food addicts identify as being addicted to. Although some food addicts report addictions to fatty, salty and excess food volume, I am going to focus on flour and sugar in this post.

If you think you might be a food addict, then you need to know a lot more about what foods are the most likely to be addictive, even though you may not want to give them up. Most food addicts don’t want to give up flour or sugar; they just want to avoid the consequences of eating.

The simplest way is to find out if you are addicted to flour and/or sugar is to use the self-assessment provided by the Overeaters Anonymous on their website, Is OA for you? You can also check out the Food Addiction Institute’s self-assessment questions, Am I a food addict?

Phillip Werdell, from the Food Addiction Institute, suggests using an assessment of different kinds of “eaters,” if you are looking for a way to distinguish between a psychologically-based eating disorder and a food addiction. H. Teresa Wright, a registered dietitian from the Philadelphia area, with over a decade of experience working with compulsive eaters, suggests to her clients that they read two books: Geneen Roth’s Feeding the Hungry Heart, as a good read on emotional eating and Breaking Free of Compulsive Eating, a book focused on addictive eating. In addition, she suggests Kay Shepard’s Food Addiction: the Body Knows or Anne Katherine’s Anatomy of a Food Addiction.

Both Wright and Werdell suggest letting you decide what type of eater you are, so you can come to your own conclusions. If you try any of the self-assessments and you think you need to make major changes in the way you eat, my strong recommendation is to do this in consultation with a doctor, dietitian and/or therapist.

Sugar is a carbohydrate. Perhaps we only use the white or brown stuff, but sugar is also a natural part of many other foodstuffs such as lactose, which is a sugar found in milk, maltose in grain, fructose in fruit, and sucrose, a refined sugar. Brown sugar is simply white sugar with a bit of molasses added or it is colored with caramel.

The food industry has developed enormous sidelines of “diet” foods, usually labeled “Sugar-Free.” Given the many different varieties of sugar; derivations of sugar such as Splenda; sugars formed from alcohol (not surprisingly, these can be very addictive); chemical sweeteners (the “polys”); artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine, etc., the label “Sugar-Free” usually means the food contains a different kind of sugar. For some food addicts, these non-sugars can have the same result as refined sugar—the inability to eat it in reasonable amounts. Although some artificial sweeteners have no caloric value, their impact on our bodies can be just as deadly as sugars with calories, if we cannot stop consuming it. A single can of soda contains 12 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s 120 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily intake of sugar. Just think how expertly the food industry has glamorized diet soda, and how powerfully addictive artificial sweeteners are when linked with caffeine.

What is bad about sugar is how it works in our body. Sugar is rapidly converted in the blood to triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat (or sometimes called a lipid) in your blood, which can increase your risk of heart disease,obesity, and diabetes. Sugar is devoid of vitamins, minerals, or fiber; it is an empty food. Its main use in the food industry is as a stabilizer, flavor enhancer and an appetite stimulant.

Today, the per capita consumption of sugar and other highly refined sweeteners (such as high-fructose corn syrup) is 158 pounds a year. That is a 30 percent increase in the past four decades, and during the same time period, the number of overweight Americans increased by nearly 20 percent. The culprit? Sugar.

In 2005, researchers examined the effects of sugar on the immune system. A published study at the National Institute of Health documented sugar’s impact: Sugar steals the ability of white blood cells to destroy bacteria. White blood cells are known as “phagocytes,” and phagocytic tests show that a couple of teaspoons of sugar can sap their strength by 25 percent. A large helping of pie and ice cream renders your white cells 100 percent helpless. This effect lasts from 4 to 5 hours. Consider a 900 ml serving of processed and packaged orange juice or one 683 ml of cola—either of these will depress the immune system by 50 percent, 30 minutes after ingestion and this will last for hours! If you have sugar at every meal, which many do by eating processed foods, alone, your immune system is constantly impaired.

For food addicts, who binge on enormous amounts of sugar, eat meals consisting of large amounts of processed food, or diets consisting almost completely of convenience foods, the impact could be exponential. For us, to eat this way is to die. 

Many food addicts are willing to give up sugar, but not flour. Paradoxically, it is because we believe that not having bread in our house, or never having a birthday cake makes us different. We fear appearing “different” when we already appear very ill with food addiction.

Flour has been embedded in so many foods, we may have more difficulty surrendering flour than the more obvious of the two, sugar. Unfortunately, the food industry is willing to subscribe to “gluten-free” advertising. It is considered a niche market and many food stores see catering to people with Celiac disease (a wheat allergy) and gluten allergies as a revenue boost. Some food addicts have these medical issues, but really what makes flour addictive is the issue of bioavailability.

Bioavailability defines the ease with which something is absorbed from the digestive tract. The higher the bioavailability of a food, the greater the total absorption and rate of absorption. The faster a food is absorbed, the more quickly it turns to glucose in the body, producing a jump in blood sugar.

Whole grains have been in the human diet for thousands of years. Milling, grinding and refining grains is a relatively recent endeavor. Unprocessed, whole grains take much longer to digest than refined flours, for example, hot oatmeal for breakfast is better than a slice of wheat toast. Many food addicts find that flours made from other grains are just as bioavailable. Rice flour is likely to trigger the same reaction in a food addict as rice syrup: both are highly refined. We may initially be persuaded by “faux foods,” e.g. “whole-grain bread,” “flour-free bread,” etc. The fact is that such breads are all made from refined grains. It is a matter of definition on a nutritional label. Reading the glycemic index of such foods tells us the truth about their composition.

The more refined a flour is, the more bioavailable it becomes. And the more quickly it turns into a spike of blood sugar followed by a drop in blood sugar. Which is the main reason we want to eat something at 10am and 3pm, when we are feeling lethargic and need a boost of energy.

Sugar and flour are both carbohydrates. Other high carbohydrate foods are fruit, sweet juices, ice cream, pies, candy, potatoes, flour tortillas, pasta, rice and beans.

So why am I addicted to flour and sugar? We will explore more of this in next week’s post.

Information and advice contained on this site should not be used for diagnosis or should not be used as a substitute for medical advice. Always consult your doctor or healthcare professional before beginning any new treatment.

Research for this post came from:

Food Addiction Institute

Lawrence Wilson, MD

Dr Jeremy Kaslow, Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology and Internal Medicine

Dr John Briffa- A Good Look at Good Health Blog

Dr William Davis- The Wheat Belly Blog

Dr Joseph Alaimo, Alaimo Chiropractic- Blog

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