Sugar addiction


Sugar addiction is a popular term for the situation where individuals crave sweet foods, and find them impossible to give up. There is clearly an aspect of psychological addiction, but recent research has also identified elements of physical dependence:

"Recent behavioural tests in rats further back the idea of an overlap between sweets and drugs. Drug addiction often includes three steps. A person will increase his intake of the drug, experience withdrawal symptoms when access to the drug is cut off and then face an urge to relapse back into drug use. Rats on sugar have similar experiences. Researchers withheld food for 12 hours and then gave rats food plus sugar water. This created a cycle of binging where the animals increased their daily sugar intake until it doubled. When researchers either stopped the diet or administered an opioid blocker the rats showed signs common to drug withdrawal, such as teeth-chattering and the shakes. Early findings also indicate signs of relapse. Rats weaned off sugar repeatedly pressed a lever that previously dispensed the sweet solution." (Leah Ariniello, Brain Briefings, October 2003)

See also Overeaters Anonymous

However, the sugar industry claims that similar effects have been reported for rats given solutions that tasted sweet, but contained no calories.

Withdrawal symptoms have been reported, including headaches, fatigue, tremors, anxiety and depression. These effects are reported to be similar to, but slightly less intense than those associated with caffeine withdrawal. No research has been conducted as to whether table sugar (sucrose) alone is responsible for these effects, or whether any other sugars common in the diet (such as glucose or fructose) exhibit similar effects.

Some psychologists prefer to emphasize that, results of this type may indeed provide a new way of looking at overeating, but that much caution should be exercised about using them to effectively put sugar in the same category as drugs. There is some overlap between the systems that control food intake and addiction but this cannot yet unambiguously be said to necessarily make certain foods addictive.

Some animals, and some people, may become overly dependent on sweet food, particularly if they periodically stop eating and then binge. This probably relates to eating disorders such as bulimia. It would probably be more correct to refer to the laboratory rats referred to above as "sugar-dependent" rather than "addicted". In general, to be classified as an addiction, reproducible "double blind" experiments would have to show that the experimental subjects exhibited all three elements that make up the definition of this term: a behavioural pattern of increased intake and changes in brain chemistry; then signs of withdrawal and further changes in brain chemistry upon deprivation; and third, signs of craving and relapse after withdrawal is over.

In 2003, a report was commissioned by two U.N. agencies, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, compiled by a panel of 30 international experts. It stated that sugar should not account for more than 10% of a healthy diet. In contrast, the US Sugar Association insists that other evidence indicates that a quarter of our food and drink intake can safely consist of sugar. However, this contradicts the sugar industry's criticism of the research discussed above.

Research into sugar addiction has been largely confined to one research group at Princeton University where they fed rats food as well as a 25% sugar solution- similar to the sugar concentration of soda-pop. In just 1 month the rats became dependent on their daily dose of sweet stuff, they gradually chose to eat less food but increased their intake of the sugary drink until it doubled." Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.New York:OCT 2002. Vol.20, Iss. 8; Pg.1,3 pgs.

"The rats were given a drug to block their opiate-receptors and showed withdrawal signs typical of drug-addicted rats- teeth chattering, paw tremors, and head shakes."

Sugar addiction is more than a stock expression people use to describe their sweet tooth. A pattern of fasting and overloading on sugary foods may foster dependence, according to a study published in Obesity Research.

"People with a genetic predisposition for addiction can become overly dependent on sugar, particularly if they periodically stop eating and then binge," warns Bart Hoebel, Ph.D., a psychologist at Princeton University who led the study. "Laboratory experiments with rats showed that signs of sugar dependence developed over the course of 10 days. This suggests that it does not take long before the starve-binge behaviour catches up with animals, making them dependent."

Earlier research found that this pattern sensitizes both dopamine and opioid receptors in rats. A cycle of deprivation and excessive sugar intake reinforces bingeing.

Abstinence also triggers withdrawal symptoms that resemble those of drug addiction, such as anxiety, chattering teeth and tremors. The taste of sugar makes the brain release natural opioids, and the bingeing causes dopamine release.

"There is something about this combination of heightened opioid and dopamine responses in the brain that leads to dependency," explains Hoebel. "Without these neurotransmitters, the animal begins to feel anxious and wants to eat sweet food again."

The rats exhibited behavioural changes even when sugar was replaced with the artificial sweetener saccharin. "It appears to be the sweetness, more than the calories, that fuels sugar dependence," says Hoebel.

Although researchers still don't understand how people can curb their sugar cravings, they do know that withdrawal symptoms and dips in dopamine levels aren't evident when meals are moderate and regularly

Most of us don't realize it, but we are drug addicts. Our drug comes in a pure, white crystal or powder form. We use it even when we don't know we're doing it. It's in salad dressing, peanut butter, soup, pickles, bread, jam, yoghurt, canned fruits, vegetables, cooldrinks etc. We crave it after every meal. The average American consumes about 59kgs per year. What is this controversial drug, you ask. It goes by many names, but the most common is sugar.

This deliciously sweet substance is also deliciously devoid of any nutritional value. Sugar passes through the wall of the stomach so quickly that it causes blood sugar levels to skyrocket, then plummet just as rapidly. I'm sure you are familiar with the feeling.

The problem that arises in coping with sugar addiction is that sugar is in so many common foods now, it's practically impossible to cut it out completely. You can't eat a sandwich without getting sugar from the bread or the mayo. You can't eat a salad without getting sugar from the dressing.

Beating sugar addiction may seem like a hopeless battle, but just like any drug addiction, you have to have a structured plan to win the war. I make no claims that it will be an easy battle. You won't be vomiting in back alleys or shivering in bed all night, but you will have the uncontrollable desire for something, anything that will give you your sugar fix.

Twelve Step Program to beating sugar addiction:

  1. Stick to foods that are closest to their original form. Instead of eating canned veggies, eat fresh veggies. Banish white bread and embrace wheat bread. Forget fruit juices; go for the actual fruit. The closer a food is to it's original form, then less processed sugar it will contain.
  2. Eat protein with breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but do you know why? Breakfast is the meal that will make or break you for the rest of the day. Your first meal must create blood sugar stability that will carry you to the next meal without sugar cravings.
  3. Eat protein with every meal. As soon as your blood sugar is thrown out of whack, you will be off the wagon again. Eating protein with each meal prepares your body for the increase of seratonin production and keeps your blood sugar stable throughout the day.
  4. Read Labels! It's incredible how many things we put into our mouths without the slightest idea what is in them. The longer the list of ingredients, the more likely sugar is going to be included on that list.
  5. Don't starve yourself in order to reward your restraint with a sweet or chocolate. Not only is this bad for your body, but you won't lose weight. Your body will just go into starvation mode, storing all your calories as fat. So that slice of chocolate cake you eat after a seven hour fast is going straight to fat.
  6. Keep a journal of what you eat. You will be surprised, and probably shocked, by the amount of sugar-filled snacks and extras involved in your diet. Write down everything, down to those five Smarties or that tablespoon of teriyaki sauce.
  7. Brown is beautiful: brown rice, wheat bread, brown cereals, etc... Brown foods give your body the positive effects of carbohydrates without unbalancing your blood sugar and creating cravings.
  8. Be active and keep busy. Most of us snack the most when we are bored and inactive. Go for a walk. Go shopping. Organize your entire house. Anything to keep your hands busy and away from the cookie jar.
  9. Eat a potato before bed. Before your head explodes from the thought of eating a starchy, carbohydrate-filled potato right before bed, consider this: when taken with the right vitamins, that spud will increase your production of seratonin, balancing your blood sugar levels. Besides, it's better than eating ice cream before bed.
  10. Try a detox program. Detoxing isn't just for yoga yogis and Enya junkies anymore. There are dozens of detox programs designed for health enthusiasts of all levels. Some last two days, some last two months. But they all have one thing in common: after the initial overwhelming sugar cravings, your body adjusts and you won't even want the sugar anymore. Acupunture detox however, does not create sugar cravings.
  11. Drink water constantly. The more water you drink, the more your body will be fooled into thinking it is not hungry. Plus, you can rest assured that there is not a grain of sugar in water.
  12. Don't get down on yourself if you slip and eat a pudding every once in a while. It's okay to reward yourself, just don't start the addiction all over again. There are always healthier options for desserts. Eat berries with some low-calorie whipped topping. Maybe you would be healthier if you cut out sugar altogether forever, but people who do things in moderation get the best of both worlds. Enjoy your life, but don't overdo it.

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