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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cari S. Miller

Is Sugar More Addictive Than Cocaine?

Sugar is the cocaine of the food world

Research has demonstrated time and again, consuming refined sugars has a similar addictive effect on the brain as opioids, such as cocaine. Not only does it have the drug-like effects bingeing, craving, addiction, and reward/pleasure stimulation; but it also brings with it withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, depression, mood changes when trying to cut it out of your diet.

Refined sugars were absent from the diet of most people until pretty recently in human history. Today, especially in America, we eat a lot of sugar and overconsumption of sugar has certainly contributed to the current obesity epidemic we see running rampant. When you look at the addictive nature of these substances, it’s not hard to see why.

Part of the issue lies in the fact there is no “aversion signal” produced by the body in response to eating too much sugar, as compared to salt. This aversion signal is like a built-in safety mechanism which protects us from eating too much salt. We simply do not have a mechanism for this so people can – and do – eat a lot of sugar and still want more. Americans consume roughly 17 teaspoons of sugar (over 70 grams!) every single day and it is contributing to many different health problems in addition to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

While there is debate about just how bad this added sugar really is, we all know – we need to reduce our consumption at least or at best eliminate it from the diet all together if we truly want to be healthy. You can swap out refined sugars for things like honey, date sugar, monk fruit, stevia, or maple sugar; however, you still need to limit these and kick the addiction. Swapping from one to the other only continues your “sweet-tooth” and contributes to the addition. You will need to retrain your taste buds to not expect that sweetness all the time.

And please, for the love of all that is holy, do not choose one of the artificial sugar sweeteners as a viable option – they aren’t! These chemical compounds are even worse than regular sugar for you. They contribute significantly to obesity, adversely affect your gut health and impact your glucose tolerance. They increase your risk of developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. They cause you to consume more calories overall and gain more weight. They reduce your metabolism and rewire your brain chemistry. And they are highly addictive- back to the beginning of how this article started out...

So, what can you do…?

1. If you are going to eat sugar, eat a small amount. Use the natural sources listed above. Think about this like if you are drinking alcohol, don’t over indulge. However, please know, this is a slippery slope. Once you start consuming you are very likely to over-indulge.

2. Be a label reader. Start reading food labels to discover just how frequent sugar is added to things like sausages, ketchup, lunch meat, etc. It is literally in MOST processed foods.

3. Appreciate foods as they were intended to be enjoyed – naturally. Retrain your taste buds to enjoy the natural sweetness of fruits, nuts, vegetables.


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