Most of our readers know that sugar ? in all its forms ? is one of the most detrimental food ingredients in our Western Diet and that when consumed on a regular basis it can cause a lot of damage to your health.
With sugar lurking around in almost everything from BBQ sauce to low-fat yoghurt, it’s no surprise that many people struggle to cut down their sugar intake. And even if they do succeed, they stumble as soon as those nagging and persistent cravings for something sweet kick in… and before they know it, they raid the sweets cupboard and a few chocolate bars and bags of Haribos later, they are back to square one.
Cutting out sugar for good
One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to breaking the sugar habit (apart from avoiding hidden sugars) is breaking its addictive cycle. When you consume sugar, it increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine (a feel good hormone). And yes, you’ve guessed it: When your dopamine levels spike and then drop again, you want to go back to the spike ? it’s what I call the “sugar high”.
To get your next “high”, your body tells you that you need more sugar, triggering cravings.
In fact, not too long ago the sugar industry became quite irate when researchers compared sugar’s addictive effect to that of the Class A drug cocaine. But the fact is that this “high” you get from consuming sugars has the exact same effect on your brain as a cocaine high.
While heavy sugar consumption initially increases dopamine levels, researchers have also found that in the longer term it leads to reduced dopamine production. So people need to consume ever greater amounts of the sweet toxic stuff to get the same sense of satisfaction… and if they don’t, well then withdrawal symptoms follows.
Another study showed chronic over-consumption of sugar could cause changes in the brain that lead to eating disorders and behavioural or mood problems. And, as is the case with other addictive drugs, abruptly limiting or cutting down on your consumption can exacerbate your withdrawal symptoms.
So, you can see why sugar is called “the poor man’s cocaine”.
Of course, it’s not great to know that you are addicted to something, but if you do think your sugar consumption has thrown you into a vicious cycle of addiction, here are a few tips for kicking this habit successfully:
- All that sweet sugar-laden stuff provides a temporary “fix” (just like any other drug) and it doesn’t resolve issues that brought it on in the first place, like how you deal with stress, feeling insecure and depressed, or having a poor body image. Seeking help for any underlying emotional and mental health problems that may fuel addictive behaviour is a good starting point.
- If you are serious about beating this habit, clear out all your cupboards (as well as those secret hiding places) of anything that contains sugar… and that includes those low-fat diet foods which are all laced with hidden sugars. So, when cravings kick in there are no temptations around that might make you stumble.
- Ditch the artificial sweeteners, they will just ramp up your cravings even further. In addition, research has shown that artificial sweeteners can raise your risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Lastly, get real about this hidden addiction. Once you realise that sugar is one of the most nutrient deficient substance on the planet ? and one you can easily live without ? you will quickly retrain your taste buds to enjoy foods that are naturally sweet and far better for your health.
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
Shariff M, Quik M, Holgate J et al. Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor modulators reduce sugar intake. PLoS One. 2016; 11(3):e0150270.
Klenowski PM, Shariff MR, Belmer A et al. Prolonged consumption of sucrose in a binge-like manner, alters the morphology of medium spiny neurons in the nucleus accumbens shell. Front Behav Neurosci. 2016;10:54