New research reveals one more good reason to get your sugar cravings in check

written by john c ashworth, ma, cscs, ces

I call it “vending machine hour.” That time during the day in the mid afternoon when your sleepiness gets the better of you and it’s all you can do to prevent from raiding the nearest source of sugar and simple carbs. Of course, there is a solution to this and it has everything to do with getting more exercise. And of course it’s not just “vending machine hour” that drives those sugar cravings. Birthdays, parties, cookouts over the summer, and essentially any other occasion where food is the focus will often drive you to eat more sugar than you should. The problem is that your sweet tooth has a consequence. New research from the center for disease control and prevention on a group of more than 30,000 Americans, shows that if your intake of excess sugar in the form of sodas, candy, junk food, and all of those great treats in the vending machine at 3pm make up more than 25% of your daily calories (not including fruit), you end up with two times the risk of dying of heart disease as someone with a sugar intake of 7% or less.

The problem is that all that sugar drives up your blood pressure, lowers your good cholesterol (HDL) and increases your bad cholesterol (LDL). All significant risk factors for the metabolic syndrome, type two diabetes and heart disease. And if you think you’re not even close to 25% of your daily calories in sugar, I encourage you to take a personal inventory of what your eating each day. The level of sugar in common foods will likely surprise you.

For example, one 12 ounce soda contains anywhere from 42 to 47 grams of sugar, which amounts to approximately 1% of your daily intake on a 2,000 calorie diet. To take your personal inventory, use the following calculation:

Every gram of sugar your consume contains 4 calories. Pay attention to your food labels and count the grams of sugar in each food. Multiply that number by four and you will know exactly how close you might be to that 25% level.

The good news is that another new study showed that one hour of running can help you lick those sugar cravings for good by suppressing your desire for all those sugary goodies. Following a one-hour run, study participants viewed images of high and low-calorie foods. While study participants viewed the food images, an MRI scan of their brain was performed. What it revealed was that the parts of the brain that control appetite showed significantly more activity when viewing the lower calorie (healthier) foods. Study authors concluded that this meant that post-run the brain considered the healthier foods more rewarding than the sugary foods. In addition to this, their also existed a reduction in feelings of hunger and a desire to eat, as well as an increased feeling of fullness.

Very often, throughout the day, your body is producing hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and noraepinephrine in response to stressful or exciting events that occur in your day. The problem is that as these hormones build, they have significant effects on your body’s physiological system. One of which is to increase your cravings of sugary high-carbohydrate foods. When you exercise for an hour as the study participants in this case did, you literally burn up and metabolize those hormones which brings your physiological system back to equilibrium and leads to the positive brain changes noted in this investigation.

It is also very likely that it’s not just running, but any other form of moderate exercise for an hour per day that will help you lick those sugar cravings for good.