Why We Crave Carb and Fat Combo Foods

by Chris Centeno, MD /

carb and fat combo foods

This morning is my first try at using the low-calorie, nutrient-dense food fast; hence, this blog seemed like a good one for this morning. I bought several Prolon kits a few months back to test out for patient use and, honestly, I’ve been a bit reticent to take the five-day plunge. So I’m experimenting with single days here and there to see what it’s all about and then will jump in. Hence, let’s explore why we crave carby-fatty foods because I can’t have any of those today!

What Are Carb and Fat Combo Foods?

Pizza slathered in mozzarella, croissants dripping with butter, a double-scoop of rocky-road ice cream…you get the idea. Foods that combine processed carbohydrates (which turn to sugar in the body) and high fats can be irresistible to many, but what causes this sugar-fat combo addiction, and what makes it generally more satisfying than a carb-based or fat-based food alone? Hint: It has nothing to do with physical hunger! It seems the answer might be a highly sensitive trigger in our brain, and according to one study, many of us actually eat these carb and fat combo foods for mental reward rather than hunger, which often leads to obesity.

Carb and Fat Combo Foods Trick Our Brain

A new study used an interesting technique to investigate how the brain places value on food. Using visuals of high-carb (e.g., candy), high-fat (e.g., cheese), and carb+fat snacks (e.g., cheese and crackers) that were all equal in calories, participants were asked to both select their favorite foods and to bid money on the food shown in each image based on their estimated energetic value (calories) of the food. Researchers found that most bid significantly higher on the carb+fat foods (even if they didn’t like them as much) and overestimated the energetic value of these foods. Additionally, participants were also undergoing brain scans at the time of the test, and the carb+fat food images stimulated the neural circuits in the reward part of the brain even if the food wasn’t among their favorites or one they even liked.

If these carb and fat combos are actually activating the reward centers of our brain, couple this with the easy access today to every processed food imaginable, and it brings our epidemic of obesity into a much clearer focus. Processed carb+fat combo foods and clever marketing are tricking our brain! Let’s explore that a bit.

Sweetness Is in the Eye of the Beholder

What I mean here is that I remember as a kid that the only two fruits I liked were pineapples and bananas. Why? They were the only two that could hold a candle to kids’ breakfast cereals as far as sweetness. When you’re used to Frosted Flakes, only a ripe banana can match that sweetness. Now, I can’t really eat these two fruits as they have too much sugar. What changed?

Sugar has now been identified as a major factor in the development of heart disease. This is an epigenetic phenomenon, meaning it impacts some of us more than others, all based on how much insulin we release when we eat sugar. Most of us release too much insulin, and by eating sugar, we rapidly march toward long-term disability and type-2 diabetes. Many of us end up in that prediabetic state by the time we’re in our 40s or 50s, dramatically increasing our odds for a fatal heart attack or stroke.

The sugar disease begins with the processed foods that are marketed to use every day. The hook is oftentimes the nutrient-poor sugar fat one-two punch. Think of taking a perfectly great food like almonds and covering them in sugar. So your overall goal as you age should be to cut your sugar intake.

We all have a set point for what we define as sweet. If we eat less sugar, our perception changes. Things that are less sweet taste sweet. If we eat more sugar, it takes more sugar to get past that threshold. This is likely a classic cell receptor issue. The receptors for sweetness down-regulate (meaning there are fewer of them) when we eat more sugar. Hence, it takes more sugar to reach that threshold receptor activation. When we eat less sugar, the number of those receptors increase, meaning that less sugar is needed to trigger the sensation of sweet.

This is a critical part of losing weight as you age: resetting your sweetness threshold. I use what I call a chocolate test. If you try a Lindt 70% chocolate bar, it should taste sweet. If you try an 85% chocolate bar, it should taste just a tad sweet, but mostly bitter. If you try a 55%–60% chocolate bar, it should be way too sweet. If you try a diet Coke or Coke, it should be so sweet as to almost make you nauseous. Meaning these drinks should have way too much sugar.

The only way to reset your sweetness threshold is to eat less sugar. You can test this from time to time above, but your days of sipping on a diet Coke or Pepsi should be over. Why? If that’s what it takes for you to function, your sugar threshold is set way too high for optimal lower carb and lower sugar health. You’re a sugarholic.

Important Information About Obesity

Weight gain and obesity are associated with many, many health problems. Some are well known, such as cardiovascular disease and respiratory diseases. Others might be less obvious; obesity has also been linked, for example, to knee arthritis both mechanically, or in how the excess weight puts added pressure on the joint, and hormonally via the signaling hormone leptin, which is oversecreted with overeating, and increased leptin levels have been found in both the blood and knee joints in those with arthritis. So let’s review ways, in addition to staying away from those processed carb and fat combo foods, you can work toward preventing or tackling obesity.

It’s important to understand that many of us really are genetically inclined toward obesity. However, that doesn’t mean we just sit back and let it happen. While genetic obesity might be our default, we also know that a healthy lifestyle that includes a proper diet and regular exercise may override it. And the good news is that those with a higher risk of genetic obesity actually obtain more benefits from a healthy diet than those with a lower risk (some healthy diets can also be found at this link), so don’t assume you’re doomed to be fat just because your obesity risk is high.

The upshot? Carbs and fat are what many of us crave. However, now that we know this, we can make better choices. Your main goal should be to cut the carbs and sugar. Use my chocolate test above to see if you’re a sugarholic. If you are and are middle-aged or older, time to cut back on the sugar! BTW, I’ll let you know how I do on the Prolon low-calorie/nutrient-dense fast as I experiment with it for patient use. Since we know that fasting can supercharge your stem cells, I’d like to see how our patients will tolerate it before recommending it.

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5 thoughts on “Why We Crave Carb and Fat Combo Foods

  1. Barb Riedberger

    This sounds very interesting. I have had Regenexx PRP injections in my left knee and am having my right knee done next week in Chicago for arthritis. I was just recently thinking that I was surprised that there has not been a strong nutritional component to Regenexx approach. I am wondering if this Prolon fast might be beneficial before or after treatments? I’d would like to hear more about what you are thinking Dr. Centeno regarding joint health and nutrition.

    1. Regenexx Team

      Barb,
      We’ve actually written quite extensively on the connection between metabolic syndrome and arthritis. We have a complimentary Nutrition e-book on our website and stem cell patients are given very specific instructions leading up to their procedure. This blog was written based on the many requests from people wanting to know how to improve their stem cells. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/8-ways-improve-your-stem-cells-prior-treatment/ and https://regenexx.com/library-complimentary-regenexx-resources/ Please also see: https://regenexx.com/blog/clean-up-your-sugar-to-improve-your-stem-cells/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/how-to-improve-stem-cells-pay-attention-to-homocysteine/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/improve-stem-cells-is-your-high-cholesterol-hurting-your-stem-cells/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/new-types-of-diabetes/ (too many more to include :))

  2. Chris Eaker

    I am going to start the Prolon fast next week. I was wondering how it went for Dr. Centeno.

    1. Regenexx Team

      Chris,

      I’ve been doing single days on Monday to test it out due to my heavy work out schedule. It’s easier to tolerate than I thought.

      1. Chris Eaker

        Thanks. I’m on day 4 of it. I’ve been very lethargic, even today, but the hunger isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Last night I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold, and today I have a slightly running nose. I wonder if it’s a part of the cleansing process my body is going through or if it’s just a coincidence it happened now. I don’t know. But so far I’m down almost 4 pounds. I would do it again periodically.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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