A recent study has found that bingeing on sweets not only impacts your waistline and your blood sugar levels but may strain your ticker as well! While it's generally accepted that a diet consistently high in sugar may contribute to high blood pressure and hypertension, a Vanderbilt research team wanted to know if those "one off" carb loads could also have a negative effect.
After just a few hours of giving 33 healthy individuals a 264-calorie carbohydrate-loaded drink, they found a 20- to 30-percent drop in atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), a hormone naturally responsible for clearing excess sodium and reducing blood pressure. The authors concluded that the likely cause was the inevitable spike in blood sugar. In other words, that box of chocolate you just inhaled may indirectly cause your blood pressure to rise—along with your risk of heart disease.
The researchers also found that overweight and obese individuals already produce less ANP than normal, leaving them at even higher risk of the cardiovascular effects of a sugary snack attack.
Unfortunately, this study left more questions than answers. With such a small sample size, and a short six-hour window for monitoring subjects, we don't know if these effects would have a long-term impact. We only got a glimpse of A (carb load) leading to B (ANP drop) with the prior knowledge that B (ANP drop) may lead to C (blood pressure spike). But we never got to see the A to C in action. So the drop in ANP from a sugar binge might not directly cause high blood pressure.
We also don't know how these findings would apply to endurance athletes who commonly "carb load" to prepare for race day. My guess: The cardiovascular benefits of that level of performance far outweigh the immediate drop in ANP hormone and potential blood pressure spike. Most of us, however, probably aren't planning on running a marathon after we binge on leftover Easter candy, and that's where the potential trouble may lie.
Now, I'm definitely not telling you to swear off carbs. Carbs are our body's ideal source of energy and are key to optimal performance, both mentally and physically. What we can take away from this study is the need to spread out our carbohydrates throughout the day and week. Don't swear off bread and pasta and then go hog wild at the Cheesecake Factory eating only cake as your big "cheat meal." Moderation is key to avoiding those blood sugar spikes that appear to be linked to this study's heart-health findings. The other big piece of advice is to pair your carbs with fiber, protein, and fat, which are absorbed more slowly and help stabilize those blood sugar and insulin spikes.
Check out these easy swaps for similar carbed-up snacks as the ones used in the study to help reduce the potential effects on blood pressure.
Swap: One large fast-food soda pop (32 oz) for a smoothie with rolled oats, flax seed, fruit, almond milk, and Greek yogurt. This blueberry cobbler version is one of my favorites.
Swap: 3 cups of orange juice for 1 orange, 4 whole grain crackers, and 1 ounce of cheese. Cheese wins over juice any day.
Swap: 14 fuzzy peach candies for 1/2 cup plain cottage cheese, 1 small peach, and 25 crushed pistachios.
Swap: 5 tablespoons chocolate-covered raisins for a bowl of chocolate chia pudding made with 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons chia seeds, and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, garnished with 1/4 cup of berries.
See? You can have your carbs. Heck, I'm not even saying you can't enjoy a few Twizzlers at the movie theater. Just try not to eat the whole bag in one go.