As a person who has battled his belt line over the years, I have overindulged in sweet treats like ice cream as well as fat treats like pizza. I know that each felt compelling at the time, but it turns out that sugar has more powerful impact on the brain’s pleasure centers than fat, according to a recent study published in the US National Library of Medicine.
The New York Times picked it up and explained that it is the sugar and not the fat that primarily triggers the brain’s receptors.
“The new research tracked brain activity in more than 100 high school students as they drank chocolate-flavored milkshakes that were identical in calories but either high in sugar and low in fat, or vice versa. While both kinds of shakes lit up pleasure centers in the brain, those that were high in sugar did so far more effectively, firing up a food-reward network that plays a role in compulsive eating.
“To their surprise, the researchers found that sugar was so powerful a stimulus that it overshadowed fat, even when the two were combined in large amounts. High sugar shakes that were low in fat ramped up the reward circuitry just as strongly as the more decadent shakes that paired sugar and fat in large quantities, suggesting that fat was a runner-up to sugar, said Eric Stice, the lead author of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.”
It’s no secret that a peek at the ingredients of popular junk foods reveals copious amounts of sugar and often fats, too. In my post A Love Letter to Hostess Ho Ho’s and Twinkies – NOT from November 2012, I pointed out there are 42 grams (10 teaspoons) of sugar and 17 grams of fat in a serving of Ho Ho’s.
“We do a lot of work on the prevention of obesity, and what is really clear not only from this study but from the broader literature over all is that the more sugar you eat, the more you want to consume it,” said Dr. Stice, a senior research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute. “As far as the ability to engage brain reward regions and drive compulsive intake, sugar seems to be doing a much better job than fat.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have a sweet tooth and have overindulged seriously in the past. What I have learned in four plus years of writing this blog is that I can come closer to satisfying that sweet tooth with fresh fruits like pineapple slices instead of cupcakes. There is still come sugar and calories in the pineapple, but it isn’t refined sugar and the calories total far less than the junk food.
A little knowledge is dangerous. Maybe the understanding of the nature of sugar cravings can loosen their hold on our taste buds and waistlines. Wouldn’t it be great to begin to lower the percentages from the 60 percent overweight and 30 percent obese that currently describe our state of being.