Is Sugar Addiction Real?
YES! A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Harvard’s David Ludwig found out that sugar can indeed be quite addictive. This randomized, blinded, crossover study took on the difficult job of proving the biology of sugar addiction. Their findings showed that foods with a high sugar or high glycemic index, triggered a special region of the brain to release dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. The amount, the speed, and the intensity of the release of dopamine triggers how addictive a substance or activity is. This area of the brain commonly referred to as the “pleasure center”, is the same area that triggers other addictions such as drugs, gambling, sex and even shopping.
What the researchers found was that the body responds differently to different calories even if the protein, fat and carbs are exactly the same and foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive.
What does this mean for you and I? That this is not an imaginary thing – it’s associated with actual physiological changes in the brain. That is why we have such difficulty getting it out of our systems. Why we don’t even want to try. Our brain says that we need it and we can’t live without it! In fact some animal studies show that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.
Don’t think that you are not addicted because you do not eat a lot of sweets. The problem is that it’s not just the sugary sweets that raise our blood sugar. Sugar is hidden in almost everything we eat that is processed, bread catsup, spaghetti sauce…there are over 600,000 processed foods in the marketplace and 80% of them have added sugar. Consider this: one serving of Prego tomato sauce has more sugar than a serving of Oreo cookies! Sugar is used consistently by the food industry to make bad ingredients taste good. In fact, our consumption has gone from 10 pounds per person in 1800, to 140 pounds per person today.
It’s no wonder that up to 70% of us, including 40% of children, have such a problem cutting sugar, flour and processed foods out of our diet!
So what can we do if we want to decrease our sugar consumption?
- Check package labels for hidden sugars (agave nectar, brown rice syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, glucose, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, sucrose).
- Avoid foods that list sugar in the first few ingredients or have more than 4 total grams of sugar.
- Avoid fake sugar. Artificial sweeteners do not decrease your desire for sugar. In fact they may actually leave you craving sugar more.
- Add more fiber to your diet. It helps you to feel full, it gives you more energy because it is broken down in your system slower than simple carbohydrates/sugars and you won’t get that hunger crash later.
- Drink water. Drinking a glass of water when you have that craving can help curb that feeling for awhile.
- Eat more protein. Protein breaks down slower in our systems so we experience less highs and lows in blood sugar levels and may decrease cravings.
- Exercise. It won’t cure your addiction but it could help the way you eat and people who exercise report that they feel better and make healthier food choices.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetable and avoid processed foods as much as possible.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol has a lot of sugar in it.
- Eliminate sugary foods and high carbohydrate snack foods from your home.
It’s not going to be easy, but the more you eliminate sugar from your diet, the less often you will crave it. You will find that you have more control over your cravings and will feel better too.