The food industry has been filling supermarket shelves for decades with products high on processed sugar. In the fight for market shares, brands discovered that the use of high amounts of sugar on their products was making consumers hooked on them, increasing both the quantities consumed and their consumption rate. This formula quickly caused profits to skyrocket.
In recent years, governments from across the world and international entities have been working together to reach a consensus about limiting the use of refined sugar in products.
In 2018, the United Kingdom took this a step further by introducing a new tax to the country: “the sugar tax,” is a strategy that was being highly successful in Mexico at the time the UK government announced its intention to implement it. Health scientists had been asking for this measure for a long time, because, in their opinion, it was the ideal policy to quickly fight the alarming rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in most developed countries.
The “sugar tax” consisted of an additional tax for total sugar content over 5g per 100ml for every manufacturer of soft drinks (for beverages with 8mg per 100ml, a second and higher tax was added). The intention was that the price increase would discourage consumers from buying these beverages for daily consumption. At this point, various studies claimed that sugary drinks consumption was responsible for thousands of diabetes cases, played a big role in the obesity epidemic, and was even responsible for more than 180,000 deaths per year (worldwide).
No one questions the harms of excessive sugar consumption, as they are widely studied and proven. But is sugar addictive? Can it really be compared to other drugs such as cocaine, for example? Let’s find out.
1. Sugar addiction
Regarding this issue, the scientific community has not yet reached a consensus. While there is little scientific evidence to support the theory that sugar is addictive in the same way other drugs are, some experts point out that the properties of sugar make its ingestion have similar effects on your brain as other drugs. When you eat something high on sugar, the region of your brain that processes taste (cerebral cortex) sends a signal to your brain’s reward system.
That’s why you get a feeling of satisfaction and immediately rush to have another bite of whatever candy you are eating. Socializing, engaging in pleasant activities, and drugs all trigger this part of the brain. However, sugar can’t produce the same dopamine spikes other drugs do, nor alter the brain structure. And abruptly cutting with food high on sugar doesn’t lead to any physical withdrawal signs – although some argue that there are biochemical signs of withdrawal in the brain. Your sugar addiction is mostly a very ingrained habit in your diet. But is that habit affecting you?
2. Are you “addicted” to sugar?
Even though it could be scientifically imprecise to say you are addicted to sugar, you can certainly have built the habit of consuming inadequate amounts of sugar that interfere with your life at a physical and emotional level. Here’s how you can tell if you’re addicted to sugar: Rewarding yourself with sugar You eat sugar to overcome sadness You eat snacks even though you’re not hungry You keep eating after realizing it’s making you unhealthy You know you’ll feel bloated or queasy, but you eat anyway These sugar addiction “signs” may seem very simplistic, but you get the idea.
The important thing is not to let food control you. Sweetened foods are convenient, easy to consume, and widely available, but that doesn’t mean that they’re harmless.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans get an average of 300 calories more than recommended per day from added sugars. You need to understand if you’re eating habits are affecting your health or your life, and in which way. From there, you could seek a nutritionist and work with him to relearn how to eat.
3. How to overcome sugar addiction
How can we overcome this sugar epidemic and break this so-called “addiction” at a global level?
First of all, everyone needs to be educated about nutrition. Parents need to know how to read food labels to tell what’s good to buy and what’s not so that when their kids grow up, they inherit healthy eating habits. In the end, it is a matter of building the right habits. For example, millions of people replaced water with soda in their daily routine. This alone will increase your daily sugar intake to dangerous levels.
Recently, sugar detox has become very popular. The term refers to a diet that completely cuts with the ingestion of any form of processed sugar. It is a great way to make a 180º turn on your lifestyle, but it will imply a lot of planning. You will have to know exactly what to eat and prepare your foods to make sure it is sugar-free.
Some nutritionists claim that not eating sugar helps you lose some weight (because you will cut hundreds of calories from your diet), reduce bloat, improve your dental health, and feel more energetic throughout the day. Give it a try!