I’ll be honest: I took my time selecting the photo for this article simply because I love even looking at carbs. I’m not alone in this unfettered love, either—as any well-intentioned dieter can attest, cutting carbs is arguably the most difficult part of trying to eat healthy. What’s worse, eating just a bite of pasta or pizza isn’t enough; a mere taste of the forbidden fruit tends to unleash a carb craving worse than before. While carbs are not the enemy and do have a place in a well-balanced diet, this cycle of craving and binging makes it difficult to enjoy them in moderation.
Science writer and fellow carb lover Gary Taubes explores this specific yet extremely common addiction in a new piece for The New York Times. Taubes has been on a high-fat, carb-restricted diet for the past 20 years, yet he still craves pasta, bread, and desserts when on vacation, at a family party, or while others around him are indulging. So why are carbs so addictive?
According to Taubes and pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, it all has to do with insulin. In short, eating carbs releases insulin into the body, which makes you crave even more carbs. “The more insulin you release, the more you crave carbs,” explains Lustig. “Once you’re exposed to a little carbohydrate, and you get an insulin rise from it, that forces energy into fat cells and that deprives your other cells of the energy they would otherwise have utilized—in essence, starvation. So you compensate by getting hungry, particularly for more carbohydrate. High insulin drives carb-craving.”
This can happen after even just a bite or taste of carb-rich foods. “There’s no question in my mind that, once people who are ‘carboholics’ get their insulin levels down, they become less carboholic,” adds Lustig. “And if they go off the wagon and start eating carbs, they go right back to where they were before. I’ve seen that in numerous patients.”
The antidote for this vicious cycle is a diet high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates, like Taubes’s. This is because fat is still satisfying, and it’s “the one macronutrient that doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion.” In other words, filling up on healthy fats like avocados, extra-virgin olive oil, organic ghee butter (we love Carrington Farms), and omega-3s like those found in salmon can curb this cycle of craving and binging.
Head over to The New York Times for more information, and share your healthy carb-cutting strategies below.