Carb love: The science behind our favourite comfort foods

In good times and bad, there’s one food group that never fails to raise a smile and fill our stomachs but why are we so obsessed with carbohydrates?

Forget what fad diets try to tell you: there’s no shame in the carb game! From thick-sliced crusty bread to perfectly al dente pasta, nothing beats a hearty helping of carbohydrates. But did you know that your craving comes from something other than a desire for the delicious?

A love that runs deep

Oh carbs. We could write sonnets and novellas about you until the ink of the world runs dry but we still couldn’t adequately express how much we love you. But is it love or just infatuation? Worse still, could it all just be down to biology? Here we were assuming that it’s the gratifying mouthfeel and easy-to-flavour nature of pasta that makes us reach for the ‘big saucepan’ every day. But actually, we have evolved to not only enjoy but actually crave and need carbs, at a cellular level. 

If there’s one thing we never feel shy about it’s nerding out over pasta. So when we discovered that cutting out carbs leads to tangible withdrawal symptoms, that’s when we knew that pasta addiction is a real thing. It was a relief (we were starting to worry about ourselves) and intriguing all at once and the science behind the surprising revelation is fascinating too.

Weird science

Previously, it’s been assumed that carb cravings come from the sugars contained therein. It goes a little something like this: you eat carbs, it creates a hormonal response that releases insulin into the body, raises your blood-sugar levels, gives you a boost in both energy and mood and creates a pleasing feeling. Simple, right? Additionally, it has been suggested that the more we eat these comforting foods, the more we want them. Supply and demand in perfectly cyclical harmony. 

But a new theory suggests that on top of this, some of us…wait for it…can actually taste starches. Those who are more sensitive to this flavour profile are more likely to eat carbs and in larger quantities too. It’s an interesting idea and makes perfect sense. If something tastes extra good to you, of course you’ll eat more of it and long for the flavour. But is there proof that this is real? 

This purported ‘sixth sense’ for all things starchy and satisfying was first floated in around 2016, with journals reporting on small studies that seemed to, tentatively, prove the theory. Since then, news has been quiet, presumably while more testing is conducted. But what an exciting theorem to work with. And what a superpower to be able to claim. A higher sensitivity to carbohydrates that makes you enjoy them even more than regular people? Yes please!

The clean eating conundrum

Enjoying pasta, bread and the like shouldn’t just be thought of as a consequence of biology. Let’s not reduce the ritual and pleasure of a meal, regardless of how simple it is, to nothing more than hormones and impressive taste buds. Similarly, let’s not fall prey to myths about clean eating and veganism. 

Eating clean is one of the most recent fads within the health and well-being world. It all started out really positively, with a focus on eating more whole foods, but then it went, well, just a little bonkers. Suddenly, everything and anything was being excluded, with the result being a raw food diet that not everybody can maintain. It was also largely attributed to vegans.

Do all vegans eat clean? No! Do plenty of plant-based foodies eat carbs? You bet! There’s a reason why the high-carb low-fat branch of veganism is so popular right now and that’s because research has shown that it can burn up to 14% more calories after meals. Sign us up! We know they aren’t a health food per se, but eaten mindfully, they’re not unhealthy either, just part of a balanced (and delicious) diet.

Bake the bread, prepare the pasta and get loved-up with carbs.

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