Sugar…as addicting as drugs?

Sugar…an addiction like alcohol and drugs?


             SUGAR…It’s everywhere!


I’m sure you know of someone, maybe even yourself, that believes they can’t cut out the sugar from their diet.  And looking at our population, it seems to be that, as a society, we are addicted to sugar.  I’m sure many of you will disagree so let me make my case.

What do I mean when I say addicted?  Well, according to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a “chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences”.  It’s easy to understand and associate addiction with Alcohol and drugs, at least it is for me.  Addiction to alcohol and drugs results in some pretty harmful consequences: jail, broken relationships, violence, psoriasis, loss of memory (blacking out), throwing up, not taking care of yourself, malnourishment, etc… These are definitely some serious consequences.   Unfortunately, for the alcoholic and/or addict, sometimes, these consequences aren’t even enough for them to quit their use.  Now for sugar addiction…I think the reason why people are in denial about how bad it is, is because they aren’t seeing immediate consequences.  It takes some time to put weight on and because it’s happening so slowly, many people don’t realize it until it’s out of control.   Did you know that it takes 10 years before diabetes actually shows up through medical testing, and by then it’s usually too late!  Diabetes isn’t the only thing you need to take into account.  Here’s a list of other negative effects of ingesting too much sugar:

  1. Raises cholesterol.
  2. Increase the risk of diabetes.
  3. Kidney disease.
  4. Depression & anxiety.
  5. Arthritis.
  6. Constipation.
  7. Fluid retention.
  8. Induce headaches & weakens eyesight.
  9. Causes gall & kidney stones.
  10. Hormonal imbalances.
  11. Tooth decay
  12. Several types of cancer.
  13. Yeast infections.
  14. Weight gain.
  15. Asthma.
  16. Coronary heart disease

The average person consumes 19 teaspoons of sugar every day!  That’s an extra 285 calories!  Try to limit your sugar intake to less than 100 cal/day for women and 150 cal/day for men.

So, lets take a look at what sugar is and what it does to the body and the brain.  First, when you eat sugar it is immediately taken up by the blood stream and you get a “sugar high”.  graph of blood sugar spikeYour body, the amazing machine it is, releases insulin (a hormone) that shuttles that sugar into your muscles for energy.  When the sugar is removed from the blood, you feel the “crash”.  This is when most people will reach for another sugary substance to make themselves feel better.  And the cycle continues.    What is even more interesting is what happens in the brain.  Sugary substances effect the same areas of the brain as drugs!  Even the mere thought of a sugary snack can trigger the same area that the thought of a drug stimulates for an addict.  A study done on the “Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake” in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, concludes:

The concept of “food addiction” materialized in the diet industry on the basis of subjective reports, clinical accounts and case studies described in self-help books. The rise in obesity, coupled with the emergence of scientific findings of parallels between drugs of abuse and palatable foods has given credibility to this idea. The reviewed evidence supports the theory that, in some circumstances, intermittent access to sugar can lead to behavior and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse. According to the evidence in rats, intermittent access to sugar and chow is capable of producing a “dependency”. This was operationally defined by tests for binging, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization to amphetamine and alcohol.

Do you crave, lose control, and eat more than you plan?  You just may be addicted to sugar.  Now that you know the problem, you can make a decision, take action, and live in the solution.

What does this mean?  Well, slowly start to slash the sources of sugar from your eating.  Start with the most harmful: simple carbs (candy, syrup, soda, table sugar).  Be mindful when buying processed foods of all the different labels that translate to sugar.

1.    Brown sugar

2.    Brown rice syrup

3.    Cane syrup

4.    Agave necter

5.    Honey

6.    Molasses

7.    Evaporated cane juice

8.    Malt syrup

9.    And anything ending in –ose (glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose, dextrose)

Next, be cautious of the complex carbs which are broken down in the body to simple carbs: refined breads, pastas, chips, fries.  If you eat complex carbs be sure to opt for the healthier versions such as sweet potatoes, Ezekiel bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oats.  But these, too, should be in moderation.

Be careful of BBQ sauces, ketchup, salad dressings, baked beans and processed foods!  They are usually loaded with sugar.

What to do?

Start to limit your sugar intake this week.  Be mindful of labels.  If you are craving something sweet, reach for berries or fruit.  They have fiber and nutrients that help slow the digestive process.  Use stevia if you need to add a little sweetness, but be careful of the artificial sweeteners.  Increase your protein intake.  This helps keep you fuller for longer, helping to reduce sugar cravings.  And of course…Drink more water!  After a couple of weeks, your taste buds will reset and you won’t feel you need sugar anymore!  Be good to your body!