Why Is Sugar Addictive ?
There is no little doubt that sugar is one of the most damaging parts of our modern diet. Many of the diseases we suffer from as a society today are tied to excess consumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates.
Obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, fatty liver disease and even Alzheimer’s (Type 3 Diabetes) all have links to excess refined sugar, carbohydrate and calorie consumption.
We have been conditioned to accept the amount of sugar in our modern diet and think of it as normal. Next time you go to the grocery store flip over the packaged foods and read the ingredient list.
You will absolutely find a form of sugar listed. Even the “health foods” at supermarket are going to be loaded with sugar.There are over fifty six names for sugar, and food manufacturers use this to their advantage.
Even foods that are considered “healthy” such as granola, low fat yogurt and breakfast cereals all have so much added sugar they are more like a soda than a health food.
Why is it that all packaged foods at the grocery store contain so much added sugar ? and how did sugar become such a large part of our foods ? There are a two very important events that dramatically altered food industry and our intake of refined sugar as a society, lets take a closer look.
Two Big Milestones
The introduction of refined sugars into our diet took place about four hundred years ago. As societies grew larger, more people needed to be fed.
For our society to continue to grow we started to move away from more natural foods that easily perished and adopted more industrialized processed foods.
These industrialized foods needed to be able to last longer while they were shipped and delivered to different regions and sat on food shelves.
It was quickly realized that refined sugar made foods taste much better, and was a very cheap preservative. Making foods last longer and taste better by adding refined sugars became the industry standard.
Without any consideration of the health consequences this extra refined sugar would have, it became an ingredient in all processed and packaged foods.
Another huge milestone that changed the way we still eat today was the low fat movement. On the advice of our government society was told to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol at all costs.
To meet the new demand of society the food industry quickly began making low fat “health foods”. The problem is that when a natural flavor profile such as fat has been removed the food tastes terrible. Luckily the food industry is great at solving problems to make sure they don’t lose money.
This problem was solved by adding mass quantities of sugar to these low fat foods. Because people were told to be concerned about saturated fats and cholesterol the extra sugar injected into the diet went unnoticed.
People were far more worries about seeing the words fat free or low fat on their foods they were about the grams of sugar on the label.
People in the United States are consuming mass quantities of refined sugar everyday, even if they don’t know it . When you combine this excessive intake of refined sugar with processed carbohydrates and calories it creates a perfect metabolic storm and sets up strong cravings for sugar.
It isn’t until people reduce sugar and processed carbohydrates that they quickly realize how strong their cravings and addictions to sugar are.
No one is to blame for this dysfunctional relationship with sugar, except the food industry. We are hardwired to enjoy and crave sweet foods, they provide a strong evolutionary signal of nutrient and energy density.
Primal Brains, Modern Foods
Our brains have built in evolutionary mechanisms that are major drivers for our behavior. Many of these evolutionary drives are meant for survival, one of the main drives is eating.
When we eat sugar there are certain reward systems in the brain that are stimulated releasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. Because dopamine causes us to feel good we have the evolutionary instinct to repeat that behavior.
This reward system is designed to help us navigate the behaviors for survival. These reward systems played pivotal roles in our survival during times of feast and famine.
A Hijacked Reward System
Today we have the same primal reward systems in place that guide our decisions around food. The refined sugar that we eat these days is much sweeter and concentrated than what could be found in nature.
As a result of this concentrated and hyper sweet energy source our brain becomes flooded with dopamine causing an overstimulation of the reward system.
The dopamine signaling that is meant to guide our dietary decisions has been been taken over by these sweet foods. A much stronger pleasure signal is sent than what we would find in nature and our reward system becomes overwhelmed.
The same opioid pathways in the brain that sugar stimulates are similar to those which heroin and morphine use. This is why some people seem powerless against sugar laden foods, and can’t control themselves.
Cravings Or Hunger ?
A lot of people mistake cravings for hunger, but there is a significant difference between the two. When a person is hungry they have physiological need for energy, when a person has a craving the brain is looking for a reward.
The perfect example is someone who just finished a big meal and if full but still craves a bowl of ice cream. The meal has satisfied their hunger and the body is well nourished, but the brain is looking for that reward, regardless of how well nourished you are.
The brain is looking for the dopamine and opioid signal to stimulate the reward system in the brain, and the quickest way to stimulate the reward system is with a large quantity of refined sugar.
More Is Less
Because of the easy access to refined sugar we begin abuse the reward system and signal too much dopamine release too often. Our body has protective mechanisms in place to make sure we keep things in better balance.
The brain downregulates (reduces) the amount of dopamine receptors, and as a result the same amount of sugar does not provide the same amount of pleasure as before.
Our solution to this problem is to consume larger quantities of sugar in an attempt to elicit the same dopamine response. Developing a tolerance to any kind of substance like sugar is a strong sign of addiction.
The Poison Is In The Dose
As a person gains a greater tolerance to sugar more is needed to elicit the same feeling of pleasure because there are fewer receptors for dopamine.
While this person may not realize it they are are chasing the “sugar high” and the feeling becomes more important than the volume of sugar they are consuming.
Chasing this feeling and not worrying about the volume of sugar can lead people to binging in an attempt to feel pleasure.
The problem is that with far fewer dopamine receptors available the person may not reach that high they are looking for because of increased tolerance.
The Sugar Blues
Once a person realizes their sugar consumption has gotten out of f hand they commonly cut back or eliminate sugar from their diet.
Without sugar to stimulate the pleasure center, and far less receptors for the dopamine being released the person does not feel the same pleasure they did before.
Your body is looking for sugar to stimulate pleasure, but it is not present. As a result the cravings mentally and physically get much stronger for the sugar. This experience is what has been coined withdrawal.
Tolerance and withdrawal are the hallmarks of addiction, similar to what people experience with cigarettes, alcohol or cocaine. This withdrawal and extreme cravings that people experience are what makes eliminating sugar from the diet so difficult.
An Interesting Correlation
Because many people who are in recovery from a alcohol, cigarettes or drugs are still seeking that pleasure they once felt with their drug of choice, many of them turn to sugar.
The brain of those who struggle with addiction still crave the stimulation of the pleasure center. While they have made the choice to avoid their addiction, sugar plays on the same reward pathway and causes an identical addiction, but to sugar instead.
Sugar is one of the most widely accepted and used drugs on the planet. Just like with other drugs sugar causes a tolerance and withdrawal and can cause people to lose control over their behavior.
Once you are addicted to sugar, it is very hard to give up and avoid.
Because of the way our food system has been developed it is more difficult than ever to avoid refined sugars. It is present in all prepackaged foods that make up the majority of the modern diet.
As a result the health of our society has been in a downward tailspin. Most of the modern diseases we are suffering from as a society can be linked back to excess consumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates.
If we are going to improve our health as society we need to break the cycle of sugar addiction, and eat foods that do not contain refined sugar or processed carbohydrates.
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