Sugar addiction: The not so sweet truth

Like many things in life, most people know that sugar isn’t good for them. However, we still manage to add it to just about everything. 


From breakfast cereals and coffee to energy drinks and ketchup, food manufacturers have managed to add sugar to an unimaginable number of products. And despite doing that, they get away with it. Why? Because it tastes good, of course!


But what’s the truth behind society’s relationship with sugar? Is it nothing more than a tasty additive, or can we really not go without it? 


Let’s examine whether the sweet relationship we have with sugar warrants the word “addiction.”


What addiction looks like 

Addiction is a big word, which is one of the reasons why many people hesitate to use it for sugar. Most of us reserve it for drugs, alcohol, and other harmful substances. However, addiction is nothing more than a physiological need for a substance, and to that extent, sugar is addictive. 


Like other addictive substances, sugar causes a release of dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter that causes you to feel “high” and, ultimately, crave more of something. However, the more you repeat a behavior, the less dopamine your brain releases. This can cause you to end up misusing a substance, all to feel the high that you once did. 


How addictive is sugar? 

A sugar addiction might not seem as severe as a drug addiction, but the power it holds over your brain can’t be understated. 


A 2008 study conducted on rats found that excessive sugar consumption can lead to all of the telltale addiction signs—cravings, excessive consumption, and withdrawal, to name a few (1). Likewise, researchers in France found that sugar addictions may be even more insidious than cocaine addictions since sugar seems more attractive and rewarding (2). 


While saying that a cookie is more addictive than cocaine might sound hyperbolic, it’s important not to underestimate the power that sugar can have on your brain. 

Common sources of sugar

Much of the sugar we eat comes from obvious sources. Foods like brownies, ice cream, and doughnuts all contain high amounts of added sugar. If you’re looking at ingredients lists, keep an eye out for words like corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, glucose, and brown sugar.


However, as mentioned, a lot of sugar comes from sources you wouldn’t think have it. Because of that, reducing your sugar intake can be difficult. 


Sports beverages, yogurts, granola bars, and low-fat salad dressing are some of the many foods that appear healthy but often contain high amounts of added sugar. Before buying any product, make sure to turn it and learn it—read through the ingredients list and check for sugar. If there’s an ingredient you’re unfamiliar with, don’t be afraid to look up what it is.

How to reduce your sugar intake 

Despite what some people might have you believe, sugar is natural. It exists in nature in sugar cane, fruits, and many other foods. However, there’s a difference between raw sugar and refined sugar. 


In foods like apples, you will find natural sugars, but you’ll also find carbohydrates like fiber. These aid in digestion and form an essential part of your diet. Concentrated and refined sugars, on the other hand, lack the benefits of raw sugars. 


Try your best to cut back on all types of sugar, but particularly refined sugars. Be aware of whether the foods you eat contain it, and if they do, try and make some dietary adjustments. Over time, you’ll notice that your taste buds will change! 

Control your sweet tooth

While you might not be able to eliminate sugar from your diet, you can practice moderation. The key is to be aware of the foods you’re putting into your body.


With time and practice, you’ll become more in tune with your body’s wants and needs. This, in turn, will help you become a happier and healthier person.

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