Our still primitive brain sees an endless supply of easy energy. Left unchecked, our bodies pay the price.

Who among us has not felt the unstoppable craving to seek out something sweet.  Even though we know they will damage our health, we often seem unable to overcome the urge to dive into cookies, cake, ice cream lots of bread and other high carbohydrate foods.  Dr. Mark Hyman says our brains have not kept up with the changes in our food supply.

            In his newsletter, Hyman tells how we got to be food addicts.  Unlike the 40,000 food items we can buy in the average grocery store, our ancestors ate all they could hunt and gather, animals and plants in an effort to store fat for the times when nothing was available.  We don’t need to store fat to hold us over in lean times as did primitive man.  Our 24/7 drive thru meals provide us with empty calories and they are stored as fat, even though we have no lean times.

Hyman says of our present day diet, “The past 10,000 years saw the advent of both agriculture and industrialization. And, in the blink of an eye (by evolutionary standards), the human diet got turned upside down. Today, 60 percent of our calories come from things that hunter-gatherers wouldn’t even recognize as food. The bulk of those items—cereal grains, sugary drinks, refined oils and dressings—are simple carbohydrates.  Our still primitive brain sees an endless supply of easy energy. Left unchecked, our bodies pay the price. The result is a two-fronted epidemic of obesity and diabetes in our country—what I call ‘diabesity’  That balance between protein and carbohydrates in the diet is where the problem lies, but it’s not what you think. Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, but they are the single most important nutrient for long-term health and weight loss. But I’m not talking about bagels and donuts. I’m talking about plant foods that more closely resemble what our ancestors ate. Hunter-gatherers ate fruit, tubers, seeds, and nuts. These are whole foods. They are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and disease- and weight-busting colorful phytochemicals. They also take time to digest. Therefore, they raise blood sugar slowly, which balances metabolism and offers a steady stream of energy. Whole foods have all the right information and turn on all the right genes.

When you eat simple carbohydrates, whether as sugar or as starch, they pass almost instantaneously from the gut into the bloodstream. Within seconds, blood sugar levels start to rise. To counter the increase in sugar, the body releases insulin. Insulin is the key that unlocks the cells and allows sugar to enter. As sugar enters the cells, the amount of sugar in the blood declines and the body restores homeostasis. An abundance of simple sugars in the diet goads the body into releasing more and more insulin. Eventually, the cellular locks get worn down from overuse. Like a key that’s lost its teeth, insulin loses its ability to easily open the cellular door. The cells become numb to the effects of insulin. As a result, the body pumps out more and more of the hormone to keep its blood sugar levels in check. Eventually, this cycle leads to a dangerous condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance—at the root of diabesity—causes you to gain belly fat, raises your blood pressure, messes up your cholesterol, makes you infertile, kills your sex drive, makes you depressed, tired, and demented, and even causes cancer.”

Since our genes are there no matter what and since we are born craving foods, what can we do to turn around this health crisis that seems to be overwhelming us? 

 Dr. Hyman says it is not as hopeless as it seems and he offers three ways to reprogram your brain so that food cravings do not control your life:  1. Balance your blood sugar.  Blood sugar highs and lows drive primitive food cravings.  If you become famished between meals, that’s a sign that your blood sugar is crashing. When blood sugar is low, you’ll eat anything. To better balance blood sugar, eat a small meal or snack that includes healthy protein, like seeds or nuts, every 3 to 4 hours.  2.  Eliminate liquid calories and artificial sweeteners.  Early humans didn’t reach for soda or fruit juices when they got thirsty. Sodas are full of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup. Processed fruit juices are awash in sugar. Try sticking with water and green tea. Green tea contains plant chemicals that are good for your health. And, last but not least, don’t succumb to the diet-drink trap. The artificial sweeteners in diet drinks fool the body into thinking it is ingesting sugar, which creates the same insulin spike as regular sugar.  3.  Eat a high-quality protein at breakfast.  Ideally, you’re eating quality protein at every meal, but, if you need to prioritize one meal, choose breakfast. Studies show that waking up to a healthy protein, such as eggs, nuts, seeds, nut butters or a protein shake help people lose weight, reduce cravings and burn calories.

            Hyman concludes, “The most powerful tool you have to transform your health is your fork! Use it well and you will thrive.”

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)