Are We Addicted to Sugar?

The Facts: Sugar is the basic component of carbohydrates, which are essential to our body. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in our diet. However, they are not all created equally….there are two different types, simple and complex carbohydrates.

All carbohydrates begin digestion in the mouth. When carbohydrates hit the tongue, an enzyme call amylase starts the digestion process. Simple carbohydrates are short chains of glucose that are easily broken down and are rapidly absorbed by the body. This causes a spike in blood sugar levels. Examples of these include sweets, chocolate, cakes, soft drinks and any sugars added to processed foods.

Complex carbohydrates contain long chains of glucose molecules that contain fiber. When fiber is attached to a carbohydrate it takes longer to broke down in the body, thus slowing down the rate at which sugar is released into the bloodstream. Due to the slow digestion of complex carbohydrates, it does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates include high-fiber foods such as whole-wheat rice, bread, pasta, fruits and vegetables.

Years ago, the food industry began removing fat from food products as research emerged that fat was related to high cholesterol and heart disease. As a result, more and more sugar was added to the food chain to compensate for the loss of taste from removing fat. The addition of sugar to foods is as much about food preservation (it is a cheap preservative- prolonging shelf life!) as it is to do with palatability (it makes foods taste better!). Some statistics show that almost 77% of food products in the American food supply contain added sugar, meaning it is almost impossible to avoid unless you know what to look for on an ingredient list.

Shockingly, there are about 60 different names for sugar - meaning that sugar is found hidden away in foods such as bread, ketchup and processed meats. It is found in places that we would least expect! The complete list of names for sugar can be found in LKN 21 Day Sugar Detox Challenge.

The concept of “sugar addiction” has become increasingly more popular nowadays. This theory stems from studies that have been done on rats which suggest that sugar is as addictive as COCAINE. The problem is that in todays society sugar is more prevalent, available, and socially acceptable. This means that it is harder to avoid because it is hidden in so many foods.

This “addiction” of sugar really boils down to 2 extremely negative effects it has on the body

1. Hormonal imbalance

2. The affect of sugar on the reward centre in our brain.

Hormonal Imbalance relates to the hormonal response to sugar, mainly due to the hormones Insulin and Leptin. Insulin, is responsible for taking glucose from the bloodstream and transferring it to our cells where is can be used for energy. Leptin signals the body and tells it “I'm full” after consuming food. It is generally released after food consumption, so that your body knows to stop eating and store the energy from food. In other words, when leptin rises, your appetite diminishes.

When your body does not produce leptin, your brain thinks it is still hungry. When we eat food, it is broken down into small sugar molecules known as glucose. The result of eating too much sugar is that excess insulin is released. Too much insulin in your body blocks the leptin signal - thus meaning that your body never feels full and you constantly crave more sugar.

The second mechanism relates to the fact that sugar stimulates the release of dopamine in the reward centre of the brain thus producing pleasurable sensations and a temporary “high”. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that conveys feelings of pleasure or euphoria. One of the key components of addiction is the repeated stimulation of the dopamine system. After weeks of this, the dopamine receptors in the brain down regulate, so there become fewer of them. Thus, you then require more and more sugar to stimulate the receptors and get the same “high”.

Studies have shown that people who are obese have blunted reactions to pleasurable foods such as sugar. Like living with an urge that you cannot satisfy, thus they crave more sugar to try and stimulate the reward centre in their brain. This causes people to overeat. You must then eat more to get the same effect. When you take the sugar away, less dopamine is released, in addition to the fact that there are now less dopamine receptors thus causing “withdrawal”. This is one of the hallmarks of addiction. Sugar is known to affect this same part of the brain as do many other well- known addictive substances- cocaine, alcohol, nicotine. So maybe sugar is like a drug after all?

What is the answer? Simple, you do not need to “cut carbs” out of your diet. You need to adjust the carbohydrates in your diet by shifting to a diet that is LOW in sugar and higher in non-processed, high fiber, whole foods. No fad diets or gimmicks necessary - we just need to eat foods that are whole, natural and do not contain added sugars. If you would like more information on how to decrease excess sugar from your diet, or on how to take part in LKN's Sugar Detox Challenge please contact me for more information.

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