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Sugar: Can You Be Addicted?

When we say “Oh man, that dessert is sooo addictive or I HAVE to have my chocolate every night before bed,” we may actually have a neurochemicals or physiological response that could mean serious health implications.

Although sugar isn’t considered a “harmful” substance, I feel that it is on an individual basis to decide what is harmful to our own bodies. Sugar may affect you very differently than it affects me and for many it works as an inflammatory agent that works to cause all sorts of bad bodily reactions. It is even worse for those of us who crave sugar day in and day out and can’t seem to get out of that rut. For years, scientific journals have debated over whether or not sugar can be classified as an addictive substance or if obesity can be classified as a form of food(substance) abuse.

Palatable food can stimulate some of the same regions of the brain as cocaine. Both trigger a flood of dopamine and feelings of well-being but in both cases euphoria is short-lived and then the brain craves more. When these pathways are triggered, the brain takes more of the substance to achieve the same sort of high. When a person continues to pursue this pleasure despite the potential consequences, they become abusers of a substance.

In a study with lab rats at Princeton University, rats preferred drinking sugar-water to that of plain water. Once the rats habituated themselves to drinking the sugar-water, they exhibited the same symptoms of withdrawal once it was taken away and they showed the same chemical dependencies. When the sugar-water was restored, they would binge. Some would argue that rates vary considerably than humans but in this case, the research seems to be dead on. Others would argue that it is not just sugar that causes the addiction but the combination of sugar, fat and salt. And as unpleasant as it may be to give up on our favorite foods, it may be worth considering to save ourselves the consequences later on.

Tops Sources of Added Sugar: Soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, sugar sweetened coffees/teas, desserts, cookies and/cakes

Ways to Avoid Sugar and the Cravings: Eat high protein snacks, avoid drinking soda (yes, even diet), avoid processed foods, read labels, eat plain yogurt rather than flavored, drink plain coffee or tea, and bake at home! When baking at home you can substitute granulated sugars for fruit (pureed dates or applesauce). Although these are still sugars, they are not processed and come from natural sources. You can also control the amount of sugar you add to foods when you choose to cook and bake at home. Try honey or maple syrup instead of sugar and experience a world of different flavors! When a sugar craving strikes, try eating a fresh fruit rather than chocolate or processed goods. It will provide sweetness without as many calories and such addictive properties.

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