Am I Addicted to Sugar?
By Pierre Mouchette | Bits-n-Pieces
This post defines sugar as added sugar in processed foods such as candies, baked goods, desserts, and beverages. Here, we will cover what added sugar is and how its effects compare to drugs and alcohol. We will also provide some information on sugar binges and cravings. Finally, we will discuss how sugar impacts health and how you can reduce sugar intake.
What is added sugar?
Added sugar is sugar added to foods during preparation. It does not include the sugar in milk (lactose) or fruit and is 100% fruit juice (fructose). Sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup are the two most common forms of added sugar.
Studies have found that some of the highest sources of added sugars for U.S. adults are candy, cakes, cookies, and dairy desserts. Soda, breakfast cereals, and other non-sweet food items such as crackers can also contain added sugar.
Is sugar addiction real?
Scientists do not know whether sugar or food, in general, is addictive. There has not been much research on sugar addiction in humans. Scientists have studied the possibility primarily through animal studies.
Researchers continue to question whether or not sugar is addictive to humans. Some believe it is a behavioral addiction, like gambling, and others think it could be a substance addiction. But both agree that you can have certain addictive behaviors when exposed to sugar. More research is required to know for sure.
Criteria for an addiction
You must meet at least two criteria for a substance use disorder diagnosis. Scientists have found that laboratory rats met five sugar addiction criteria. The same results might also be applied to humans. The criteria are:
Sugar compared to drugs and alcohol
Sugar releases dopamine in the body, which is why most people enjoy eating sweets. Dopamine is the chemical that helps you experience a pleasure. In laboratory studies with rats, researchers found that sugar released dopamine similarly to drugs.
Some people have reported experiencing withdrawal from sugar. However, researchers have not found study results that support this claim. Scientists are still working on an exact definition of sugar withdrawal. It might also be that any withdrawal symptoms experienced by abruptly quitting sugar could be your body adjusting to your change in diet, even if it is a positive change. It could lead to changes in your gut that can cause, for instance, uncomfortable gas and bloating.
Sugar cravings and binges in humans
The brain’s sugar reward pathway can weaken if you eat it regularly. It can then lead to craving larger and larger amounts of sugary foods over time to experience the same amount of pleasure.
Humans are programmed to eat more to prepare for periods of potential starvation, and scientists think this may partially explain sugar binging. Our prehistoric ancestors were often unsure when they would be able to eat again. As a result, they would consume large quantities when they could. However, over thousands of years, our brain circuitry has not evolved nearly as much as our lifestyle has. So you could be biologically motivated to eat sugary foods even when you are not hungry.
Similarly, some scientists believe that lab rats binge on sugar because of the pleasurable aspects of sugar, not the neurochemical properties of sugar itself. Scientists also think whether you get addicted to sugar could depend on the type of food and your characteristics.
What are the health risks of eating sugar?
Along with added sugar comes empty calories. It means that by eating foods with added sugar, you are likely taking in excess calories that do not provide much nutritional value. As a result, eating large amounts of added sugars puts you at risk for:
How much sugar is OK to have per day?
Dieticians recommend that we consume sugar sparingly. They suggest eating at most 100 g of fructose per day. It is equivalent to half a cup or 24 tsp. Remember that there are many other names for sugar on food packages, so pay attention to your food labels if you are trying to monitor your sugar intake.
What are some ways that you can control your sugar intake?
Fortunately, there are things that you can do to limit how much sugar you consume.
Things you can do to limit sugar intake include:
Unhealthy eating is associated with factors such as stress and low self-esteem. Some people's relationship with sugary foods may stem from difficult childhood experiences. They may have self-soothed by eating foods that comforted them, and that coping strategy has continued into adulthood.
If either of these is the case for you, you might consider going to therapy to help you deal with underlying issues that could contribute to your relationship with food. Therapy can also help you learn healthier ways to deal with your emotions.
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