If you are one of the millions suffering from an unhealthy sugar addiction, you understand how hard it is to resist. And according to paediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert H. Lustig and psychologist Dr. Elissa S. Epel, you may not even be to blame.
What makes sugar so desirable that it is considered more addictive than cocaine? It has to do with how sugar hijacks your brain, making you nearly powerless to resist its cravings.
Doctor Lustig says that, “No one can exert cognitive inhibition, willpower, over a biochemical drive that goes on every minute, of every day, of every year.” (http://authoritynutrition.com/how-sugar-makes-you-addicted/) And that is how powerfully addictive sugar is. Just as a cocaine addict understands the deadly ramifications of his habit, sugar junkies know that their favorite sweet-filled junk foods offer no health benefits, and possibly dangerous consequences.
The cornerstone of what makes sugar so addicted is a chemical called dopamine. When you eat foods with a lot of sugar, huge amounts of dopamine are released to a part of your brain which is called the Nucleus Accumbens.
Eating more sugar than your body requires, especially in a short period of time, cuts down on the number of receptors for that dopamine. This creates a dangerous cycle. The more sugar-filled foods you eat, the less your brain responds to them, so the more your body craves.
And since the human body turns sugar to fat when too much is ingested, you begin gaining weight. Every time you eat more and more sugar, its effect is blunted, so you crave more, eat more, and gain more weight. This is not unlike the powerful brain-centered rewards that cocaine, nicotine and alcohol deliver.
But since eating excessively sweetened junk foods causes you to crave more and more, you are armed with the answer to the powerful sugar addiction – eat less.
That may sound like a very difficult proposition, especially given the fact that anatomical changes take place in your brain when you are exposed to sugar-filled foods. But just as alcoholism and cocaine dependency can effectively be treated by a “cold turkey” approach, that is also the healthiest treatment for sugar addiction.
But the good news is, sugar is not quite as dangerous as illegal drugs and excessive alcohol abuse. A little is not bad. And you can replace your sweet tooth desire with the natural sweeteners and flavors found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Look for words like glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, maltose and high fructose corn syrup on nutrition labels. These are sneaky ways that food manufacturers have of saying “sugar”.
And if you have young children, get them started with a positive, low-sugar diet as soon as possible. A study out of Washington University found that children raised on healthy, nutritious foods which are lower in sugar and sweet flavors had a much lower level of sugar addiction later in life.
Now that you understand how sugar “hijacks your brain”, leading to unhealthy nutrition decisions, you can take charge of your life. Only by consciously examining every bit of food you eat every single day can you begin a dedicated effort at cutting back on your sugar intake. The less you eat, the less you crave, and you also receive heart healthy benefits, getting fit and losing weight at the same time.