With the never ending presence of blogs, articles and advertisements telling you to eat this and not that, it's hard to really figure out what's really true for people who are looking to lose weight or eat healthy. As a Biochemistry major, I spend a lot of time learning about how our bodies process the things we eat and drink on a daily basis, or in other words, human metabolism. If I've learned one thing so far this semester, its that puffed rice cakes are the Achilles heel of weight loss.  These salty snacks are often consumed by people who are dieting or concerned with weight loss, as they are extremely low in calories. However, Biochemists would say that they have the exact opposite effect on the body and can actually derail weight loss if consumed too often.

So why are rice cakes so bad for you?

Well first, take a look at the nutrition label and you'll see a whole lot of nothing. No fat, no fiber, vitamins or minerals, or calories. So, in short a rice cake is purely made up of carbohydrates. In addition, due to the increase in surface area that occurs when the grains are puffed, rice cakes are hydrolyzed into glucose almost instantly when you consume them. 


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What exactly does that mean? Puffed rice cakes turn into sugar almost as soon as they are ingested. This makes their glycemic index, which is an indicator of how a food affects blood sugar extremely high, coming in at 82 (where an index equal to 100 is pure sugar). Compare this number to the glycemic index of an average bowl of ice cream which comes in 66! 

So what happens to your body when you consume a large amount of refined carbohydrates?

Here's how my Biochemistry professor summed up what happens to our body when we have a "puffed rice cake binge" :

1. Glycolysis: This is the conversion of glucose to usable energy, or ATP. 

2. Glycogen Synthesis: When amounts of glucose are high in the body, the body converts glucose into its storage form, called glycogen, which can then be used later for endurance activity such as long-distance running. When you rely mostly on carbs for energy and fuel, your body burns glycogen most readily while you exercise (as opposed to fat). 


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3. Fat Synthesis: When levels of glucose from refined carbohydrates are extremely high, your body converts it into fatty acids, and ultimately triglycerides, which is stored in our fat cells for later use. 

4. Hypoglycemia plunge: Snacking on puffed rice cakes on an empty stomach will increase your blood sugar levels almost instantly. When these levels steady off, you'll end up feeling sluggish, tired and ultimately still hungry.

My Morning Doughnuts

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Finally, what do you do if you're craving a snack half-way in between lunch and dinner?

Stick to foods that are high in protein and low in refined carbohydrates. Some ideas to try include almonds, turkey roll ups, a hard-boiled egg, plain Greek yogurt with berries, and of course veggies. 

Spaghetti Squash Breakfast Bowl

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Think of it this way: the more you change whole foods from their natural state to something processed (think taking a whole banana and making it into a smoothie) the more it loses its nutritional value and the quicker it gets digested in our bodies. Eating whole foods that are full of nutrients, protein, and healthy fats will keep you fuller longer and ultimately help maintain your health and wellness goals.