We all know that sugars can be addictive, but just how addictive are they?
After all, sugar is one of the most common ingredients in our foods today, and we readily give it to our children without a second thought. Sugar makes us feel good, and it tastes so sweet that we even crave it. We also eat sugar to give us energy, as a reward, for celebrations, and to make our foods taste better.
But as much as we love sugar, we all know it has a dark side to it, and it is far from good for us. It ruins our teeth, causes weight gain, destroys our cholesterol, and raises our blood sugar. Even with all these negative side effects, we still crave it and feed it to the people we love the most.
This is because the chemicals that make up sugar cause us to be addicted to it and make us believe the good feelings we get from it outweigh the bad.
Why Is Sugar So Addictive?
Sugar is addictive because of the way it interacts with our brains.
When we eat sugar, we are rewarded with the feeling of happiness and a sweet taste the is overly enjoyable. This response is instant and makes us want to continue this instant gratification. The negative effects of sugar, on the other hand, are not immediate and slowly set in over time. So, we often choose the instant gratification over long-term consequences.
To really understand why sugar makes us feel so good, we need to look at the chemical reaction it creates in our bodies. The chemicals that make up sugar activates our brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates our emotional response.
Sugar vs Drug Addiction
To discover how sugar compares to drugs as an addiction you must first define what an addiction is. For something to be considered an addiction, it must meet three of the following criteria:
While these criteria often apply to drug and alcohol use, it can also apply to sugar as well.
Many people feel withdrawal when they cut sugar from their diet; they have trouble limiting how much they consume, they eat it even knowing that it has negative health consequences, and cutting it from your diet can be difficult, even stressful. We can even build an intolerance from it when it is a staple in our lives. If you have ever cut down your sugar consumption, or even eliminated it from your life for some period of time, you will have noticed that even a small amount of sugar is suddenly overwhelming.
There are many similarities between the addiction to sugar and drugs.
Sugar has similar effects on your brain as cocaine and nicotine. All three of these activate the brain’s same center for reward, releasing dopamine and making us emotionally attached. All three also lead to cravings for the substance and binging when we get it.
The emotional and psychological addiction to sugar is, in many ways, similar to many drug addictions, but when it comes to physical addiction sugar can take a small toll on our bodies, but not to the same effect as drugs like cocaine and alcohol.
If you’ve ever known someone addicted to drugs, or have been yourself, then you know there can be a strong physical addiction where the body learns to become dependent on the substance, and a removal of the substance can cause a real physical response. Someone coming off drugs can often become sick and withdrawal can be painful, even deadly as withdrawal from alcohol can lead to death.
Sugar, on the other hand, has less drastic effects when you stop consuming it and eliminate it from your diet.
When someone stops eating sugar, they may feel the effects, but it is not to the same degree as someone coming off drugs or alcohol. Instead, the person may experience being lethargic at first, but soon report feeling better without it.
Evolution Of Sugar Consumption
For as long as humans have been around, we have craved sugar for its ability to boost energy, but unlike our ancient ancestors who had little access to it, sugar has become more easily available. Unfortunately, our want for it has not weakened.
The average American consumes 20 teaspoons of sugar each day. That is an added 230-335 calories to our daily diets. This is also 14 teaspoons more than is recommended to eat each day.
The history of sugar is a long and complicated one, but the relationship that we see today began in the past 100 years as people had less time to cook and industries stepped in to replace home cooked meals with processed food that was quick and easy to make. This also led to the rise in bottled foods, such as ketchup, jam, and pickles. During this time, the idea was to consume more calories, as calories equaled fuel and the working class needed a way to increase food availability. Before long we also had foods that were so convenient we could consume them on the go, such candy bars, and bottled soda.
Today, we understand the difference between calories that provide our body with nutrition and empty calories. However, we have also become used to the convenience and enjoy the availability of foods that are sweet.
Corporations that produce food add sugar to increase the food’s addictiveness and taste, resulting in more sales. This is more than just adding it to candy bars. Sugar is added to everyday items like bread and pasta sauce to make it more addictive.
Negative Side Effects Of Sugar Consumption
Our addiction to sugar comes with a price, and we continue to consume it despite knowing the negative consequences. However, while we are all aware that sugar is not good for us, many do not realize to what extent.
Sugar is bad for your teeth – Our mouth is filled with bacteria that forms plaque. The sugar we eat fuels that bacteria and that plaque becomes harder to remove from your teeth. This can lead to cavities and tooth decay.
Causes you to gain weight – Sugar is addicting and can lead people to lose control over the amount of food they consume. This puts people at a higher risk for obesity and can cause weight gain. Even the sugars found in fruit, fructose, can cause weight gain due to our cell’s inability to use it when we over consume it. Our liver then metabolizes it where it is turned into fat.
Leads to fatty liver disease – When the liver turns fructose into fat it doesn’t always leave the liver. This can lead to fatty liver disease.
Development of type 2 diabetes – When you consume too much sugar it can lead to insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
Cancer – Having consistently high insulin levels in the body, caused by an overconsumption of sugar, can contribute to the overgrowth of cells, a characterization of cancer. Studies also show an increased risk of cancer in people who consume high quantities of sugar.
Raises your risk of heart disease – The overconsumption of sugar can lead to higher levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol), high insulin levels, and increased weight gain. All of this can impact your risk of developing heart disease.
How You Can Ease Off Sugar
If you are concerned about your health, the first thing you would want to do is limit your intake of sugar, and for a lot of people, this is easier said than done. It may not be easy, but it is possible. There are a few tricks you can do to limit your sugar cravings, so you aren’t tempted to eat more sweets. Drinking more water to improve hydration, eating more protein to reduce cravings, and eating regularly to avoid hunger all help to limit sugar cravings.
You also want to be mindful of the foods you are consuming, so you don’t mindlessly snack on foods that may contain added sugars. When you aren’t aware of what you eat, or how much you are eating, it is very easy to over consume and surpass the recommended amount of daily sugar intake.
It is also important that you are eating healthy, whole foods in the right amounts. But when you consume sugar, it can be hard to hear what your body is really asking for. Sugar cravings can be louder than the cravings for whole foods, filled with nutrients. There is a way to help your body get back on track and hear what it really needs.
Sometimes to beat the sugar cravings you have to reset your metabolism and how your body responds to food. The easiest way to do this is through a program like the 21 Day Metabolic Reset, which uses foods to reset your body. This three-step program provides you with detoxing, alkalizing, and digestive support, along with a unique eating plan that will help you manage your need for sugar.
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