The old saying goes, “sugar and spice makes everything nice.” For many of us growing up, our favorite part of each meal is possibly dessert, with all its sweet and sugary goodness. Why is it that we love sugar so much and always associate it with pleasant memories? There may be a reason. Studies have shown that sugar can be quite addictive. In fact, one study presented on PubMed Central from the National Institutes of Health showed that lab mice actually prefer sugar over cocaine as the more rewarding addictive substance of choice, and that many mice developed sugar dependency and addiction. Here is the skinny on sugar and why we love it so much.
What Makes Sugar Addictive?
Usually, to classify something as an addiction, four components of addiction are explored: binging, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization (sensitivity to another substance similar to the chemical structure of sugar). While the last component is more scientific, self-proclaimed sugar addicts may often experience the first three feelings when dealing with sweet foods. Although sugar addiction is not recognized as a medical condition, studies show that sugar is definitely addicting, and that we may develop habitual dependence on it.
Sugar acts quite similar to addictive drugs upon our brains. It stimulates the release of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, throughout body, so we feel good when we eat it. Our body also tends to crave sugary or sweet foods when it is tired or hungry, since glucose can be converted the quickest into energy accessible for the body. However, the great feeling you have is only temporary, commonly known as a “sugar high.” During this time, you may feel happy and energized, but a large emotional dip, known as a “sugar crash,” will soon follow. Eating sugars is not a sustainable way to elevate mood, give yourself energy, or make yourself feel better.
Health Detriments Of Too Much Sugar
Here are some complications that may arise through sugar addiction:
- Obesity: Foods high in sugar are also typically high in calories. Hence, overconsumption of sugar puts a person at risk for obesity, which opens the gateway for many other potentially life threatening diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
- Diabetes: Although sugar does not directly cause diabetes, it indirectly does, usually through obesity. This can be a debilitating disease that can prevent you from eating your favorite sweets forever; hence, it is always better to be able to have some sweets mindfully, in moderation, than never to eat desserts ever again.
- Depression: Studies have shown that rates of depression increase with sugar consumption in our country. While there isn’t a clear physiological connection between sugar and depression, there definitely is a psychological one.
Even if you do not enjoy pure sugar or syrups by itself, sugar is still present in many enticing food items that give us comfort. For example, refined carbohydrates and high glycemic index foods, such as white bread, white rice and most pastries, also break down as sugars in the body and stimulate the same feel-good effect sugar has. Refined sugar is also hidden in many of our default foods, such as soda pop, pizza, processed foods, certain fruits, starchy foods, and even low fat and diet foods. Hence, even if you do not think you have a sugar addiction per se, other foods you are addicted to may be sugar bombs that overdose your body with sugar.
Tips To Reduce Sugar In Your Diet
Once your body becomes accustomed to a diet lower in sugar, it will not crave it as much as before. Here are some tips to reduce sugar in your current diet:
- Satisfy that sweet craving with fruit. If you must need something sweeter, try a block of wholesome dark chocolate and eat it mindfully.
- For those who have an insatiable sweet tooth, try eating whole fruits instead of processed sweets, as fibers in fruits slow down the sugar absorption process.
- Opt for low glycemic food choices, such as whole grains instead of processed carbohydrates.
- Drain and rinse canned fruits prior to consumption to get rid of excess sugar.
- Substitute soda pop and fruit juice with flavored water, soups or unsweetened tea.
- When cooking or baking, cut the amount of sugar the recipe calls for in half.
- Try sugar alternatives, such as agave nectar, honey or plant-derived sweeteners. However, be sure to consult your doctor if you plan to use artificial or chemical sugar substitutes (such as Splenda, Sweet & Low, etc).
If you feel that you are eating too much sugar and don’t know what you can do, seek psychological counseling if needed. Many times, an addictive attitude towards sugar or food stems from deeper psychological issues that are waiting to be resolved.