The Truth About Sugar Addiction


With the rise in obesity and diabetes (diabesity), it’s a good time to step back and assess the factors contributing to this deadly epidemic.

There are many reasons why people eat way too many calories that lack nutrition, such as the low cost and convenience of fast food as well as insufficient education about how their diet affects them.

The diabesity epidemic is not helped by the power that many “unhealthy” foods have over people. Those with strong willpower often fail to lose weight and keep it off because they are literally addicted to things they shouldn’t be eating: processed, sugar-laden, starchy, fried foods.

Humans Can’t Live Without Sugar

Sugar, in the form of glucose, is essential to human life; it’s our primary energy source. We’re talking about the sugars that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables as well as the glucose that the body makes from carbohydrates — not sugar that’s added to foods.

Humans are thought to have a genetic preference for sweetness, which was originally meant to ensure survival. However, a mild desire for sweetness seems to have grown into a powerful need for sweetness that controls many lives.

You could easily become a victim of sugar addiction without realizing it since sugar is added to almost every packaged and prepared food on the market.

Sugar Addiction Begins at Birth

From infancy, many of us are given formula, food, and drinks sweetened with sugar, corn syrup (which is glucose) or high-fructose corn syrup (in which some of the glucose has been converted to fructose).

Children then graduate to breakfast cereals, which may portray themselves as wholesome but are actually loaded with sugar.

It’s no wonder then that children become accustomed to sweet-tasting things and nearly always prefer them over healthier foods (like veggies). Parents who “reward” their kids with sweet treats don’t help matters either.

Between sugar-laden foods (some of which appear “healthy”), rewards, and desserts, children can consume large amounts of sugar. About 35 years ago, a study pointed out that some children were consuming more than 280 g of sugar per average day!1

Just imagine how much healthier we could be if these numbers were lower.

Can We Live with Sugar (And Not Abuse It)?

Is it possible to consume sugar responsibly? Some people are able to indulge in moderation and balance it out with exercise and diet. But what about those who can’t seem to resist the craving for sugary foods? Are they truly addicted?

To find an answer, researchers allowed rats to freely consume a sugar solution. When the sugar solution was removed, the rats exhibited impulsive behaviors similar to those brought on by drug withdrawal.2

It’s no surprise the rats had that reaction. Consuming large amounts of sugar has been shown to release dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter that’s involved in memory and reward.3

The powerful effect that sugar has on our brain (making us feel good so we keep wanting more and more until we actually crave it and have withdrawals when enough isn’t consumed) is analogous to the changes that take place with addictive drugs like cocaine.4 Scary!

Just like some people become addicted to drugs and some don’t, some people become addicted to sugar and some don’t. For some, the more sugar they consume, the more they crave. So if sugar is not used in moderation, addiction could occur and the risk of diabetes and obesity could increase. This, unfortunately, is the path so many are on now.

How Do We Stop Sugar Abuse?

The deceptive presence of sugar in prepared foods, including those that target infants and children, is making it difficult to stay out of the trap that manufacturers have set. If you crave their products, you will buy more of them!

However, it is possible to live without added sugar! Sticking to fresh produce and making your own meals is one way to maintain control over their ingredients (or lack thereof). Healthy foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains still contain sugar, but it’s naturally occurring and in lower amounts than foods sweetened with added sugar or corn syrup.

Read the labels of every food and beverage you put into your shopping cart! If it contains sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, etc., these are red flags, and you should put them back on the shelf!

Addictions are hard to break. However, when people kick their sugar habit, they report more energy, weight loss, and many other health benefits.

If you regularly consume sugar, try going without it for a few days or weeks (if you can work up to that) and see how you feel. If you do find yourself facing irresistible cravings, try snacking on fresh fruit or engaging in some exercise to redirect your focus.

References:

  1. Am J Clin Nutr. 1981 Mar;34(3):404-13.
  2. Physiol Behav. 2015 Feb;139:468-73.
  3. J Addict Med. 2009 Mar;3(1):33-41.
  4. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(1):20-39.

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