Sugar has become the “hot new topic” in medical news. There are books written on the troubles it causes, movies devoted to how the food industry is leading us into obesity, and even television shows focusing on obese contestants, many of whom struggle with what they define as sugar addiction. But is it possible to become addicted to sugar?
No one can deny that sugar consumption has increased over the years. In the 1800's the average person consumed approximately 18 pounds of sugar each year. It was considered to be a luxury and was called “White Gold” because it was such a profitable commodity. Today, it's estimated that the average American consumes over 150 pounds each year! That's like eating your weight (give or take a few pounds)!
Sugar is Big Business
The majority of our sugar consumption is within the foods we eat. Soda, candy, cakes and pastries are all commonly thought of as being sugary treats. But the food industry has learned that adding additional sugar to other foods, such as ketchup, salad dressings, and even pickles, will make the average person crave more sugar. And to make matters worse, there are 257 different names for sugar, which has made it increasingly difficult to determine if it is an added ingredient.
When we eat sugar, our hunter-gatherer instinctive behavior is triggered. This behavior was a survival mechanism that helped our early ancestors survive a famine millions of years ago, and our brains are hard-wired for the sweet taste of sugar. What once kept our ancestors alive, is now causing huge health issues in today's world. Our food supply has changed, but unfortunately, our biology has not yet caught up with modern times.
Is Sugar Addictive?
Anybody who has ever struggled with a sweet tooth would likely answer that question without thinking twice. I've known I was addicted to sugar long before it was the latest hot topic in the world of health and nutrition. But scientifically, I've felt validated in recent years, as study after study has proved that sugars, not only have destructive characteristics but are also extremely addictive.
Dr. Serge H. Ahmed asked the question, “Is Sugar as Addictive as Cocaine?” He published his findings in the Journal of Food and Addiction in 2009. What he found was that sugar was eight times as addictive as cocaine. EIGHT TIMES!!
In another study, Dr. David Ludwig led a group at Harvard and proved that foods that were high in sugar triggered a region in the brain (nucleus accumbens) that is the starting point for addictions. Any addiction – alcohol, heroin, gambling, nicotine, as well as sugar. It's called the brain's pleasure center, and when it is stimulated, it makes us feel good by releasing a powerful surge of dopamine. We want to continue to feel good. So, we continue the behavior (eating sugar).
There have been other studies done that use only pictures of junk and processed food. Using brain imaging, researchers watch the brain “light up” as if it was using heroin. Our bodies are so efficient, that even the sight of something sweet, will trigger a reaction.
The food industry is well aware of the response that sugar has on our brain. In fact, they spend millions of dollars creating foods that are so appealing that, regardless of how much we eat, we never feel as though we can eat enough.
The Sugar Affect
By consuming large amounts of sugar, over time, our dopamine receptors no longer respond like they once did. Like any addiction, it becomes necessary to increase the quantity of sugar consumed to attain the same pleasurable state. In addictive language, we have built a tolerance to the substance.
Consuming too much sugar can be harmful to the body, and in addition to obesity, it promotes disease and inflammation. It will even depress the body's immune system, reducing the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria within the body.
To make matters worse, sugar's calories are different than other calories. Not only does our mind encourage us to eat more sugar, but our body is driven to convert the added calories to lethal belly fat. Shattering the myth that all calories are created equal! I like the way Dr Mark Hyman talks about the equality of calories:
“Some calories are addictive, others healing, some fattening, and some metabolism-boosting.”