When you hear the word “addiction”, what comes to mind?
Maybe some scary drugs like meth, tobacco, cocaine?
Ever thought of sugar?
Few would think to include sugar in the list of terrible substances and destructive behaviors that are addictive and devastating to lives. However, current
However, current research has shown that processed sugar can be just as addictive as the most harmful drugs.
Yikes, who would have guessed that innocent bowl of Captain Crunch I just ate is so terrible.
Why is this such a concern?
Sugar ingested in large quantities can cause serious health defects. Sugar intake has been linked to hypertension, chronic heart disease, chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, pancreatitis, malnutrition, obesity, and liver dysfunction.
[bctt tweet=” Current research has shown that processed sugar can be just as addictive as the most harmful drugs.”]
Basically, too much sugar can and will harm you.
The Science Behind Sugar Addiction
I know I said the S word in that heading (science) but stick with me, it’s actually quite interesting and important.
Addiction can be defined as, “A state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.”
The emphasis in this definition is “rewarding stimuli”. Our brain communicates by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. A particularly important neurotransmitter relating to addiction is dopamine.
Dopamine, when released, produces feelings of pleasure and reward. Food, exercise, entertainment, and certain drugs are just a few of many examples of what increase dopamine production.
Chemically, addiction occurs when there is repeated dopamine stimulation to the point where the brain’s function and structure are altered.
The over-stimulated brain causes the natural production of dopamine to decrease, as well as reducing the number of dopamine receptors. When this occurs a person is often left with low feelings of depression and lack of motivation.
In order to feel that pleasurable high, or even normal, drug users are forced to rely on amplified amounts of the substance to achieve their desired response.
Sugar, with all its sweet, sweet delightedness, is one of many substances that increase dopamine production.
How Much Sugar Do Americans Actually Consume?
Americans consume 130 pounds of sugar each year. Broken down, the average adult consumes about 23 teaspoons of sugar each day and the average child consumes 32 teaspoons of sugar each day.
To put that in perspective, imagine a three pound bag of sugar. If you’re like most people, you eat that much in a week.
No wonder type two diabetes, a chronic disease that was once primarily only seen in older adults, is now plaguing children.
Why is it such a problem?
Well, besides the usual “blame the government” rant, sugar is pretty much in every processed food we eat.
It’s in our cereals, our bread, our milk, our salad dressings, our sweets, our condiments, our frozen foods, yogurt, granola bars, protein bars, dried fruit, juices…I could make a list a mile long.
How do we avoid sugar addiction or begin our recovery if we have a problem?
The first thing we can do is to start reducing our processed sugar intake.
Notice how I didn’t say eliminate but reduce.
Completely eliminating all sources of sugar is very impractical, not to mention nearly impossible.
Quitting cold turkey may also lead to other problems like increased cravings, which leads to binge eating and overeating, which may lead to an eating disorder.
So how do you slowly reduce the amount of sugar you consume and avoid these problems?
1.Identify what your major sugar sources are.
Soda, candy, and processed foods such as cookies, chips, and certain types of bread are usual culprits and are excellent foods to start slowly removing them from your diet.
For example, If your vice is soda and you currently drink three cans a day, try cutting back to two cans, eventually one, and then none a day. Find better replacements. You will begin to notice that as you start to slowly remove sugary foods from your diet, the craving for them also disappears.
2. Stop buying sugary processed food.
The saying, “out of sight out of mind” couldn’t be more accurate here.
If you don’t have candy, cookies, cake, crackers, soda, etc. around you probably won’t be tempted to eat it.
It’s that simple people.
3. Learn to read labels.
One of my tips when buying processed foods is if the sugar content is higher than the fiber plus the protein content, don’t buy it.
[bctt tweet=” When buying processed foods, if the sugar content is higher than the fiber + protein content, don’t buy it.”]
Check out the servings sizes and read the ingredient list. The people working for the food industry are experts at coming up with clever names for added sugar such as…
- brown rice syrup
- high fructose syrup
- corn syrup
- evaporated cane juice
And just because sugar is labeled as “organic” doesn’t make it any healthier.
4. Experimenting in your own kitchen to find healthy sugarless alternatives of your favorite treats.
You can replace sugar in almost any recipe using stevia, a calorie-free sweetener. Just remember to stay far away from synthetic sweeteners such as aspartame as they are just as harmful as or worse than sugar for your health.
Check out my recipe page for delicious dessert recipes, without all the added sugar!
Wrapping It Up
Sugar is simply a part of daily life and it is impractical to completely avoid it.
However, we can find healthier ways to enjoy the sweet things in life and we can improve our health as we make small but significant changes in our diet.
And avoiding sugar addiction is always nice too. 😉
- Stice, E., Yokum, S., Zald, D., and A. Dagher. 2011. Dopamine-based reward circuitry responsivity, genetics, and overeating.Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 6: 81–93.