About Sugar Addiction
Many people ask, how could sugar be addictive? How could a common and seemingly benign food ingredient possibly be included in the same category as such noxious items as methamphetamine, heroin or cocaine? Or at least be listed alongside everyday but addictive substances like alcohol and cigarettes?
These are fair questions. Here are the brief answers.
1. Refined Sugar Acts on Our Bodies as a Drug, Not a Food
The truth is that refined sugar, stripped of its original plant-based context, is a potent extract that heavily impacts many physiological systems including our neurochemistry, our hormonal balance, and our gut biome. These drug-like impacts include disruption in our neurotransmitters’ delicate feedback loops, death of dopamine receptors, undue elevation of insulin (the hormone that regulates blood glucose) levels, impairment in the signaling of leptin (the hormone that communicates satiation to the brain), glycation and the development of insulin resistance, and overfeeding of harmful gut flora. These are only a sample of the physiological impacts caused by consumption of refined sugars that are not found with consumption of a balanced diet free of processed foods.
2. The Character and Strength of Sugar Addiction Varies Widely Among Individuals
For many people, sugar addiction is more tenacious than alcoholism, tobacco addiction, or drug addiction. It is not uncommon to hear of people who have given up smoking and drinking, but cannot, even after years of trying, stop a sweets habit. For them, withdrawal from sugar proves too intense and miserable. Other people have more moderate addictions and find they can break the habit after a tolerable, if uncomfortable, withdrawal period.
3. Refined Sugar Was Foreign to the Ancestral Human Diet; and Our Bodies Are Ill-Equipped to Metabolize Today’s Immense Volumes of it
Over millions of years of human evolution, humans ate animal products and plants, including fruits, tubers, greens and vegetables. Aside from an occasional raid on an unfortunate beehive, humans had no strong sugars. Our bodies developed to metabolize those natural, whole foods and not the highly processed foods so ubiquitous in our pantries, grocery stores, vending machines and school cafeterias today. It is hardly a stretch to say that these metabolically foreign foods, like soda, chips, candy, milk shakes, breakfast cereal and cookies, act as slow poisons on our very sensitive and ill-adapted bodies.
For more detailed information, we suggest consulting with the many books, blogs, podcasts and weblinks listed on our Resources page.
For those particularly interested in reading the science of food reward, please see the list of research papers published at Whole Health Source here.