Are you, just maybe, addicted to bread? I ask you, is there anything more powerful than the smell of freshly baking bread? It matters not whether the variety in question is sweet bread, cinnamon rolls, 8-grain, whole wheat, or potato bread, when that smell hits those olfactory sensors buried deep within your nose, it just flips a freakin’ switch like virtually nothing else, and leads your to consume bread like some sort of culinary pied piper. After a few of those bouts, you may even have wondered if you have a real, live bread addiction.
You know who you are. Face it, if you react to the aroma of freshly baked bread the way a heroin addict reacts to the sight of a spoon filled with bubbling goo, you may just have a slight bread addiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but bread is one of the foods that, more than many others, contributes to that roll around your waist that you’re trying to get rid of.
The fact is that you can be addicted to bread much the same as you can be addicted to sugar, because most kinds of bread react in your body much the same as does sugar. This is even true of whole wheat bread, although the more whole grains in the finished product, the lower the glycemic index.
The problem is that most breads may start out with whole grains, but by the time the grains are ground down into flour, it is almost as ground and ready to quickly digest as is pure, white flour….or pure, white sugar, for that matter. So, as I discussed in my post a few weeks ago about sugar addiction, eating bread really has much in common with indulging in sugar….and in many cases, the glycemic index of bread is even higher than many candy related products!
Really, the glycemic index of a bagel, that health food that’s not, is between 70 – 80, depending on the kind of bagel we’re talkin’ about. A snickers bar’s GI is only 55, and it’s probably higher in protein than some bagels.
The human mind is one, great, big association machine. It associates stimuli in the environment to past experiences. That’s why when you smell that deliciously fantabulous smell of freshly baking bread it about sends you over a cliff. Your brain knows that soon after that smell arrives at your nostrils, a piece of delicious bread arrives in your mouth, and shortly after that, your blood sugar levels begin to head for the stratosphere.
There are some more chemically oriented reasons that bread can have such a powerful hold on you, too. That sugar causes a reaction that allows more tryptophan into your brain, due to the fact that Insulin (called up because of your recent bread indulgence), keeps other amino acid competitors at bay for a while. Not a huge deal, except that tryptophan is ultimately metabolized into serotonin. For more on this exciting bit of body chemistry, see this post over at 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet.
Once you start indulging on things that ramp up your serotonin levels immediately after you eat them, all bets are off. You may as well be mainlining. A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience reveals that rats, and presumably humans, have addict-like reactions to food. Moreover, obese rats, and once again, presumably humans, exhibit different reactions than do leaner subjects. The study found that “These data demonstrate that overconsumption of palatable food triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuits and drives the development of compulsive eating.”
Oh, you’re not off the hook yet. It gets worse from there. Some studies have examined the actual mechanisms that can make you crave bread more than all else. You see, the way some people’s brain reacts to wheat is very similar on some levels to the way opiate addicts react to opium products. Kris, over at KrisHealthBlog describes in scintillating detail exactly how this happens, but the upshot of it all is that as wheat is broken down by your digestive system, it forms opioid peptides. These proceed to cross your blood / brain barrier in much the same way as opium products do. Once there they have a great time stimulating your brain’s opiate receptors, and presto!! Bread addiction!
So you see, it’s not simply that awesome fresh baked smell that does it. Your bread addiction may actually be baked into your brain. One way to minimize the effects of this problem is to try a kind of bread that I’ve mentioned before; flourless bread. That’s right, it is bread made without flour. Since the grains are sprouted, rather than ground up into powder (there’s another drug reference), the glycemic index of flourless bread is lower than traditional bread. Also, it tastes great, but not quite as good as the best traditional bread, which can also keep you from powering down so much of it. Hey, every little bit helps!