Sugar. We can't get enough of it and cutting it out of our diets can seem impossible. But why? In today's post, we're taking a look at the latest research that has experts comparing sugar to addictive drugs, with dangerous side effects that can seriously impact health.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is short-chain carbohydrates composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. You can find naturally occurring sugars like fructose in foods like fruit, vegetables and dairy. The carbohydrates within starches like bread and potatoes also break down into simple sugars within the body. Then there is the sugar added to all sorts of foods, also known as sucrose, produced from a variety of crops, including sugar cane, sugar beets and corn (high fructose corn syrup),
Why Do We Crave It?
The first reason we crave sugar so much is its impact on our hormones. When we ingest sugar, it stimulates the brain, which encourages the production of serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters also called "happy hormones." Triggering the increased production of these neurotransmitters produces a feeling of pleasure, which is why many people turn to sweet foods in both celebration and to boost a bad mood. A 2008 animal study published in the medical journal Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews identified the potentially addictive nature of sugar. A later study, published in 2013 in the medical journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, confirmed this possibility in humans based on previous studied that showed sugar's power as a "reward," triggering a feeling of satisfaction.
The second reason we continue returning to sugar is it's impact on our glucose levels, which is the amount of sugar in the blood. That "sugar rush" you can experience after eating foods high in sugar is caused by the sugar you consume being converted into glucose. This burst of energy is fleeting, however, once the amount of glucose in the bloodstream drops due to the production of insulin which helps the glucose be absorbed by the cells as a form of energy. This is why you may feel tired or lethargic shortly after having a high-sugar food or beverage, resulting in you either going for more or going for a nap.
Negative Impacts of Sugar
More and more research in recent years has pointed out the addictive nature of sugar and how a diet high in sugar can negatively impact health. First and foremost, consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, since the body can't utilize all the sugar you're taking in as energy. This is compounded by a lifestyle that is largely sedentary with too little exercise to balance the calories taken in. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease, cancer and other serious conditions.
Consuming too much sugar can also lead to the development of type II diabetes, which is a condition wherein the body cannot properly produce insulin to process the glucose. The negative side effects of diabetes, if not managed properly, include nerve damage and vision impairment.
Lastly, a recent study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine linked added sugar with heart disease. The study showed an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease among adults who consumed more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar in their diet, which is about 6 tsp for women and 9 tsp for men.
Kicking the Sugar Habit
Want to cut back on sugar in your diet? The key to success is to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet gradually so you don't experience extreme cravings. Make small changes each week to bring down the amount of added sugar you eat slowly. Add just one sugar to your coffee instead of two, for example. The next step is to read nutrition labels more carefully, since sugar can be listed as many things. Lastly, increase your consumption of whole foods and foods rich in protein and fiber, which prevent those drastic spikes and dips in blood sugar.
Don't let your love for sweets lead to a full-blown sugar addiction. Get more tips for ditching sugar here!