We are all aware that alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are addictive, but some foods can also become addictive.
Definition: “An addiction to something is a very strong desire or need for it.” So, for a food this means having a strong desire or need for it. Even though you know that it is unhealthy, despite all your willpower and effort, you find it hard to either reduce how much you are consuming that particular food or avoid it altogether.
Our bodies need carbohydrates, which are broken down into sugars, to create energy that we need to function. We can either have sugars which are found naturally in real foods: fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, etc. Or we have foods that have sugar added to them, the culprits being the processed and packaged foods that tend to be a high source of sugar: obvious ones being soft drinks, chocolate, cake, ice cream, etc. But it's also hidden in some savoury foods like tomato sauce, soup or ready-made meals.
The World Health Organization (WHO) guideline recommends, “adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5 per cent or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.”
This is because there are many health conditions associated with consuming too much sugar and it can in the long-term cause weight gain. Overweight and obesity are linked to many chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, some types of cancer, etc.
Junk foods with added sugar are empty calories and should be had as a treat, in moderation. However, these one-off sweet treats make us feel good after eating them, as they release dopamine, which is why we begin to need more and before we know, it becomes part of the daily diet.
Why it is difficult to give up sugar?
The reason you may find it hard to give it up may be because sugar has addictive properties, as shown in a study on rats in 2007, that the intense sweetness surpasses the cocaine reward. After eating foods that contain sugar the brain receives signals that activates the reward system. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released, associated with pleasure and reward.
In a study done by Princeton University it was shown that daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly, released dopamine in the accumbens shell, which is similar to what most drugs of abuse do, showing a similarity between the two.
In a separate study, rats with intermittent access to sugar were tested for sugar dependence by testing four components of addiction; bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitisation. It was shown that in some circumstances, rats with intermittent access to sugar can lead to behaviour and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse.
Some simple swaps
As seen in the studies above there is evidence that supports it has addictive qualities.
We do not need to give up all sugars as we need them for energy, but need to consider the types and portions of sugars we are consuming. You can have those found in fruits, vegetables, etc. as these are real foods, which contain fiber and don’t cause a sugar rush. For example, instead of eating sugar rich desserts have the natural sugars found in fruit or yogurt. Also, it would be better to make your own cakes, biscuits or other sweet snacks so you know exactly how much sugar you are adding in rather than buying packaged foods. Swap the white sugar for brown sugar and use less to change your palate
The one-off cake or ice cream is not the problem, but becomes an issue, if you crave it and are having excessive amounts and frequently. You then need to take control over how much sugar you are having.
Overcoming addiction to sugar is not easy but needs to be done to reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.
Having guided to reduce the cravings, I suggest making the changes gradually so you can do it and don’t experience the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
*If you have tried and failed doing it on your own, do join me for my free online training on how to reduce your sugar cravings naturally. You can register for this here.
by Sujata Din
is a Certified Health Coach and Certified Professional Cancer Coach. In this regular for ‘iGlobal’, she offers some special insights, from useful wellness tips to recipes for creations that are not only delicious but also healthy.