People kid about being addicted to sugar but its no joke. I doubt you would think to compare sugar to cocaine but sugar is more addictive than cocaine. For the average person it is more addictive and more harmful (although you probably aren’t getting cuffed for eating too many Twinkies).
You may think this is hyperbole from a health nut trying to scare you into dropping the cookie tray, but it is a fact; the metabolizing of sugar lights up the brain similar to a line of coke. One difference is the accessibility. To get cocaine I’d first have to find a dealer (is there an app for that?) then I’d have to endure the awkwardness of asking for the product without sounding like a cop (there’s a certain vernacular for this exchange I’m sure). Whereas the other white powder; I don’t have to go far.
Sugars from fruits, vegetables, and some complex carbs like sweet potatoes are not the bad guys we are talking about. These foods have a lot of nutrient value. We’re talking primarily highly processed foods, sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup (really bad guys!)
How is sugar more addictive than cocaine?
Cocaine and sugar trigger the release of dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter that tells the brain we feel pleasure. The surge of dopamine is followed by a crash. Once we are bottomed out we naturally look to the source that got us high and want more.
The difference is we do not have any biological drive to snort things up our nose, whereas we have to eat in order to survive. Food provides us energy. Sugar is by far the fastest metabolizing source of energy there is. The body becomes accustomed to using sugar for energy and then craves more.
As we mentioned earlier, sugar is easier to access.
It is also socially acceptable. More than that, people push it on you…”oh live a little. You can have one. Life’s too short not to enjoy some desserts.” This happens a lot when people clean up their diets. Friends and family get weirdly self-conscious and say things like that to make them feel better.
Most people do not realize sugar is addictive. Nor are they aware of the bodily consequences of over consumption.
We can also note that things like brownies buried in my grandma’s ice cream taste AMAZING. It’s hard to refuse.
The sugar cycle
Sugar is hard to kick because of its hormonal effect. The reason we are drawn to sugary foods when we are depressed is because of its instant hyperpalatable reward. But this doesn’t last. It’s an artificial pleasure that fades fast once the insulin is spiked. People are often stress eaters. This is a bad hole to fall into. The cycle goes:
- I’m stressed
- Give me sugar
- Damn that’s good!
- I’ll have just one more
- I need a nap
- I’m still hungry
- More sugar please
Stopping this cycle and cutting sugar out of your diet is the first step to improving your health dramatically. High sugar diets are the norm in America and they are literally killing us.
The good news is, it takes less time than you think to kick this habit. If you give it a few days, your cravings will decrease. Your taste buds will adapt. After this happens, sugary foods will taste too sweet. Every time you power through temptation, it gets a little easier.
How sugar has you fooled
- Excess sugar drives the pancreas to release insulin, the key to the cell doors that converts and stores sugar as fat.
- After the insulin has done its job, our brain doesn’t think we are full. The cravings are still there because the hormone (leptin) that tells us we are full never gets received.
- Sugar is now the most desired of all the nutrients because the brain has become addicted to the quick energy and pleasure it provides.
Sugar is a killer
We know that excess sugar leads to hazardous issues including obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and cancers. It feeds cancer cells and facilitates nearly every disease process.
The constant yoyo of insulin and blood sugar will result in insulin-sensitivity, at which point you are in real danger of Type II diabetes and other diseases.
It gets worse…
Not only does it have devastating consequences on the body, we are learning that processed and sugary foods have a terrible effect on the brain. David Katz, founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and a Prevention advisory board member stated, “There’s a compelling argument being made that Alzheimer’s disease is actually ‘type 3 diabetes,’ or insulin resistance of the brain”.
A 2009 study in Diabetes Care, researchers studied people with type 2 diabetes and other risks for cardiovascular disease and found diabetics are at greater risk of brain shrinkage and dementia. Furthermore, new studies suggest you do not have to be at a diabetic diagnosis sugar level to be at risk. Sugar levels at the higher end of the normal range can make you vulnerable.
If we know elevated blood sugar leads to these ailments, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume it causes or at least exacerbates other problems, such as depression and other mental illnesses. There are many assertions I will not include because I haven’t found scientific data but I think research in the near future will link high sugar diets to other problems.
Detoxing and replacing sugar in your diet.
It does not take long to detox from sugar. One thing you want to make sure of is that your diet is not too bland. Sugar addicts are accustomed to tasty – hyperpalatable foods. So, use plenty of spices and herbs to prepare your meals. You will want to up your protein intake as well as your vegetables to get that nutritional satisfaction. The fuller you are, the less tempted you will be to eat the sweets.
One of the best ways to make changes to your diet is to have a plan to follow. There a lot of great resources you can follow to keep you on track. One of my favorites is PaleoPlan
You will probably crave sugar for the first few days, but it will be worth it when you feel more energetic with a clearer head and a better mood.
Replace the sweets with the following:
- Peanut butter. It’s delicious and it fills you up more than sugar. Get the natural kind with no preservatives.
- Fruits. Eat 2-3 servings per day. Yes fruits are sugar but they are not hyperpalatble or processed. When have you ever binged on apples? Fruit is good for you.
- Meat! Sorry vegans. Meat is highly satiating and the protein does a body good.
- Whey protein shakes. The right kind is tasty. You can drink them plain or make a smoothie and mix it with greens and fruits. That will take care of your sweet cravings!
Be happier, live longer. You deserve it.
Is it really that big of a sacrifice to put down the plate of brownies in the scheme of things?
It would be highly hypocritical of me if I did not admit my own sugar cravings. I LOVE sugar! Chocolates, pies, brownies, candy bars,…. I love it all and if its around I am tempted to eat some (ok, a lot!). My discipline lies in knowing how tempting it is, so I do not buy it. If its not around, I don’t think about it.
It is also important for me share that I am a believer in enjoying things in moderation. If you’re having desserts on occasion, its not likely to be an issue. Eat a cupcake every once in a while. Just don’t have the whole plate.
Thank you for reading this post! I hope you found it useful. Let me know if you have any questions or if I can help you in any way. Thanks!