Sugar: Are we all addicts?
Do ever feel like you have absolutely no control over your cravings for something sweet? Do you sometimes feel like unless you “treat yourself” to something soon, you’ll be low energy and low focus? Have you ever compared these feelings to those described when talking about mild withdrawal symptoms? If you have found some similarities that’s because sugar is actually 8x more addictive than cocaine, a known addictive drug. So why can food companies get away with pumping our children’s cereals with sugar, and our government put the same tax on sweets as they do on health food items?
This week we want to explain to you just how addictive sugar is, why companies continue to use it to get us to buy their products, and a few ways you can kick your sugar addiction.
Why Are We Addicted to Sugar?
If we think about the food sources that were available to humans prior to the industrial farming, GMO’s, and the globalization of food, our ancestors ate what they could find. Hunting, gathering, and foraging were how we kept ourselves alive and so our brains evolved systems that would motivate and reinforce the drive to hunt and forage.
Sweet foods – any fruits and vegetables that we could find – were like little energy boosters. Something to give us enough energy and nutrients to survive the longer hauls between larger, more substantial meals. Our brains and bodies crave sugar when we need a boost. The simple consumption of something sweet jolts the whole system, giving us energy, and lighting up the reward centers in our brain making us feel so good.
So how does that translate to now? Well researchers have found that the brain functions that evolved to help keep us alive in the past is still present in our minds. Unfortunately we can now relate this function of the brain to humans susceptibility to addiction. Initially it was thought to only be linked to our addiction to psychoactive drugs, but not researchers are testing how this relates to food.
If this area of the brain causes addiction to consumed drugs, then it is also likely that we could experience addictions to foods that we consume as well. Sugar is especially interesting to study because researchers have found that consuming sugar causes many of the same responses in the brain as drugs. There is a dopamine release, that makes us feel good, and then a release of a neurochemical acetylcholine, which acts as a messenger between nerve cells.
The Food Industry
When the food industry caught wind of the fact that humans could become addicted to certain foods, it meant that they could create dependencies on their products, which would mean massive success for them. Foods became more processed and manufactured to be highly palatable so that you would crave more of these products.
In the 70’s and 80’s when a study came out saying that high fat foods were the cause of cardiovascular disease and metabolic conditions, the food industry took the fat out of the food, and replaced it with sugar. Removing the fat meant removing where most of the flavour was coming from, so they would add sugar and sugar substitutes to ensure people continued to buy their products.
It was after this shift in “understanding” that the rates of obesity started to increase rapidly. Cardiovascular disease and metabolic condition cases also began to increase as well. This is because the study that was published to warn us all about the dangers of fatty foods, was actually a spun story funded by the sugar industry. They paid to have the researchers switch their story from sugar being the culprit for food-related disease, and made fat our enemy.
So What Do We Do Now?
The fact that we have been manipulated to buy more of these foods is frustrating but understanding this also helps us to make better healthier decisions in the grocery store. Consuming sugar regularly actually creates a dependency in our brains. We are constantly looking for that rush of dopamine to feel good, whether we realize it or not.
Kicking the sugar addiction is similar to kicking any other addiction. It will take time and perseverance through some very uncomfortable days. In a study where scientist created a sugar dependency in rats, when they took away the sugar the rates displayed binge eating behaviours when they were eventually given food and they displayed signs of depression and anxiety when the food was gone. So if you think that you are a slave to the sweets, here are a few ways you can kick your sugar addiction!
- Know what you are up against: Now that you know some of the symptoms you will experience when removing excess sugar from your diet, keep that in mind and remind yourself to stay strong. The feelings of anxiety, depression, and fatigue are all temporary as your body adjust to less sugar
- Make sure you have a healthy diet: If your body is going to feel deprived of sugar, you should make sure you are getting the most complete diet possible. All of your vitamins, minerals, and a healthy combination of fats, proteins and carbohydrates from whole food sources
- Abstain until you feel ready: Liberating yourself from a sugar dependency means that “cheat-days” may not be an option for quite some time. The slightest reintroduction of sufficient amounts of sugar can put you right back into a state of sugar dependency.
Stay well hydrated: This one may seem like a lofty solution, but when you body is dehydrated your brain actually starts to misinterpret signals coming from the body. Some of these signals could be interpreted as hunger or fatigue, both of which could lead you to grab a sweet comfort food to help get you through it. Make sure you are having at least 1L for every 50lbs of body weight throughout the day to keep your head clear.