For years, dietitians advised us to cut down fat and cholesterol intake. These two foods believed to cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease epidemics. But a growing number of nutritionists are now pointing the finger at sugar. Claiming that our over-consumption of sodas, candy, cookies, and other sweets and processed foods are the real cause of the health crisis. Not only that, sugar is proven to be highly addictive, just like drugs.
Good Sugars Vs Bad Sugars
But how bad is sugar, really? Well, research shows that refined sugar is associated with weight gain, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and depression, among others.
However, all sugar is not created equal. In fact, a little of “real sugar” can actually be beneficial to your health! Naturally occurring sugar is the kind that exists in whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, and milk, to name a few. The main role that sugar plays in our body is that is a fantastic form of quick energy for our body to use. However, we just need a little bit of naturally found sugar in order to reap its benefits. In fact, according to the WHO you only need about 25 grams of sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons) to have healthy energy levels.
Sugar also has a darker side though. The majority of the sugar that the average North American consumes is sourced from artificial or added sugars. Added sugars such as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup do more than tickle our taste buds. They stimulate our brain and cause real addiction. Unfortunately, added sugars can be found in many (actually almost all) store-bought food products – cereal, granola, salad dressings, ketchup, sauces, etc. Added sugars lurk literally everywhere!
So if you feel like you are addicted to sugar you are certainly not alone! With the majority of the foods being offered in our stores, vending machines, and restaurants loaded with excess sugar, having a dependency is certainly not abnormal nowadays.
At the end of the article, we have a ‘Sugar Addiction’ Quiz that can reveal whether you’re a “sugar addict” or not.
The Science Behind A Sugar Addiction
If you have ever tried to quit sugar you’ll know the struggle of attempting to cut it out. Because as it turns out, it’s not as easy as staying clear of candy or avoiding sugary treats. As science can explain, our bodies response to detoxing from excess sugar is a pretty hard process.
The reason behind this is because sugar stimulates the reward center in your brain – called the nucleus accumbens – to release dopamine. Which is a neurochemical that gives our brain that “feel good” sensation.
When you eat foods that contain a lot of sugar, a massive amount of dopamine is released and as with any drug, the more stimulus you provide, the more you need overtime to feel the initial effect due to a down-regulation of dopamine receptors. That’s why sugar is really no different than, and functions similarly to, drugs of like cocaine and nicotine, some researchers found.
Because of the addiction forming habits of sugar, for some people there will even be anatomical changes in the brain when exposed to these sorts of foods. This is part of the reason for developing a full-blown addiction, according to research. Sugar-bingeing spikes levels of feel-good dopamine and opioids (natural pain-suppressing substances that act like morphine) in the brain. It also sparks activity in the brain’s pleasure center, which is linked to addictive behaviors.
Eating sugar makes you feel great; then the lack of it causes you to feel terrible, which makes you crave sugar again. This leads to the formation of tolerance and needing more sugar to get the same feeling again. It’s like a never-ending sad and very unhealthy addiction circle that leads to forming diseases. Even if you’re at a healthy weight, sugar still can cause health problems – heart problems, inflammation, headaches, acne, bloating, and energy crashes. It’s definitely worth the effort to make a diet change.
Signs You Are Addicted To Sugar
You Have An Increased Sugar Tolerance
Our bodies are smart and our taste buds will eventually adapt to whatever we give to them. Hence, the more sugar you eat, the more your taste buds become desensitized to the taste of sugar. As you continue to eat sugar, your sugar tolerance will increase, so over time, you need more and more to satisfy your taste buds.
Naturally sweet foods will also begin to taste less and less sweet. So, if you no longer find fruit sweet-tasting, need an extra spoonful of sugar in your coffee, or can’t stand the thought of drinking plain water, it is one of the leading signs that you’re addicted to sugar.
Trying To Cut Back on Sugar Is A Nightmare
If you’ve tried to cut it out, but just can’t, it is certainly one of the best signs of being addicted to sugar. If you tried to cut back but started to go through withdrawal symptoms, it’s only natural to go back to your old ways. Although cutting out sugar cold turkey may work for some, it may be difficult for others, and therefore make it more difficult to quit.
You’re Constantly Hungry
Ok, I know that you’ve been told that eating every 2-3 hour is ideal as it helps to “boost” metabolism. Not only is that false, but the need to eat every 2-3 hours is a sign that your blood sugar is disrupted. It is important to keep in mind that sugar comes in many forms, not just sweets, and the need to eat every 2-3 hours for energy or to avoid getting hangry is a good sign you are dependent on it.
If you find yourself munching on breakfast at 8 am, a snack at 10 am, lunch at noon, another snack at 2 pm, dinner at 6 pm, and a late-night snack before bed just to get through the day, your insulin is probably resistant to sugar and you are unable to metabolize fat for energy. So, if you find yourself mindlessly snacking or constantly thinking about the next time that you will be eating, it is actually one of the leading signs you’re addicted to sugar.
Binging Sugary Foods Is A Habit
Although this one seems obvious, the inability to stop eating sugar once you start is one of the most common signs you’re addicted to it. The consumption of sugar, especially in excess over time, can really influence the body’s hormones, especially insulin, leptin, and ghrelin.
Insulin is responsible for managing the body’s energy level and needs for more sugar. While ghrelin is the hormone responsible for telling the body when it is hungry or not. However, overconsumption of sugar can cause ghrelin to become less sensitive and therefore can lead up to over-consumption of sweets even when we are not hungry. So, the more you consume sugar the less sensitive your insulin and ghrelin become, and the more sugar you need to get that same sugar “high”.
Sugar Impacts Your Energy Levels & Causes Mood Swings
Sugar consumption directly impacts our blood sugar and our blood sugar directly impacts our energy levels. So, if you feel great at certain points in the day, but have extreme bouts of fatigue at others, it is another one of the signs you’re addicted to sugar.
When you eat a large amount of sugar, or a meal rich in carbohydrates, your body reacts by producing insulin to metabolize the sugar in your blood. This high influx of sugar (or energy) gives you a quick energy boost, followed by a dramatic dip or crash once the sugar has been removed from the bloodstream. This constant disruption in blood sugar will not only leave you feeling tired during the day but cause you to crave more sugar and refined carbohydrates to bring your energy levels back up.
You’re Also Addicted To Carbs
Sugar comes in many forms, and this is something that people forget. Sugar, or glucose, is our body’s primary source of fuel and is derived from all forms of carbohydrate-based foods. Carbohydrates, specifically refined carbohydrates, are processed into sugar very quickly and easily by the body and can quickly feed your sugar addiction.
Items like crackers, granola bars, and bread may seem like a “healthy” choice compared to refined sugar, but if you are someone who already has a problem with sugar they will only perpetuate the cravings. In the end, these forms of refined and processed carbohydrates only disrupt our blood sugar, making our body depend on sugar for fuel, and therefore only feed into further sugar addiction.
Swap things like pasta, bread, crackers and granola bars for items such as rice, potatoes, veggies, and fruit! This will help to increase your fiber and nutrient intake and slowly balance your blood sugar over time.
You Feel Bloated After Meals
There are many reasons why you may get bloated after eating, but one of the primary reasons is the fermentation of sugar in your digestive tract. Our digestive tract is a delicate ecosystem of bacteria and excess consumption of sugar, in all form, can disrupt its natural balance.
Refined sugars and natural sugars, such as fructose from fruit, are difficult for many people to digest, especially when consumed in excess. As in this case, they feed the bad bacteria in our guts causing bloating. So, if you love your sweets but are constantly bloated after eating, it might be one of the signs you’re addicted to sugar.
You Crave A Sugary Snack After Healthy Meals
If you are addicted to sugar you often associate eating with having something sweet. If you eat healthy dinner, for example like a roasted chicken with broccoli and brown rice, you immediately want to add something sweet to this. That’s because your brain’s got used to the pleasure associated with eating sweet foods. Healthy food that is low in sugar never provides the same level of pleasure, so your brain seeks to add something sugary to it.
Being addicted to sugar may even lead you to think that a healthy diet is no longer an attractive option. How many people you know that admit that a healthy diet is important and good for you, but it just doesn’t taste right?
In fact, healthy food tastes good, but the addicted person won’t know. The sugar addict who was bombarding one’s taste buds with sweet stuff had developed a tolerance to sugar. They got so used to eating too sweat that now they can’t be pleased with healthy food anymore.
Now let’s see if you’re addicted to sugar or not!
How Addicted To Sugar Are You?
What To Do About Sugar Addiction?
Quitting sugar is not as simple as it may seem, but the first step is awareness. It is important to remember that not all sugar comes in the form of sugary treats and desserts, but can also come in the form of crackers, granola bars, sweetened beverages, and any other form of refined carbohydrates.
Although quitting sugar is tough, it can be done and many people have done it before. Quitting sugar doesn’t mean that you will never eat sugar again. It simply means that when you do consume it, you will be able to do it under control.