Sugar addiction - how does it manifest itself? Why do we love sugar?

Posted on Oct 23, 2022      48

Sweets are as addictive as alcohol and tobacco. Giving up sugar can be more difficult than trying to quit smoking. There are often no one-size-fits-all solutions, but they all involve adopting a healthy diet.

Scientists believe that sugar (and sweets containing it) affects the body’s opioid receptors - creating a full-blown addiction. In particular, sweets can provoke a dose-increasing tolerance - as well as difficulty quitting.

In terms of neurochemistry, the brain receives an atypical pleasurable stimulation, the information about that moment is recorded - and one wants to repeat the experience again in the future. In fact, scientists claim that craving for sweets is comparable to addiction to alcohol and tobacco.

Why do we love sweets?

The mechanism of sugar addiction is because in its natural state, sugar is almost never found in nature: our ancestors used sweet fruits and honey rarely and only in a limited period of the year.

Probably the presence of fast carbohydrates in the food serves to signal to the brain that such food contains a source of fast energy, which is quite atypical. Other natural carbohydrates require cooking, and their rate of absorption is significantly lower.

However, in today’s society, sugar is not only available year-round - but is also contained in a huge number of refined foods. Producers of which are unequivocally aware that consumers enjoy sweets so much that they form an addiction.

Effects on Dopamine

The neurotransmitter dopamine is a habit-forming hormone. It usually rises after a pleasurable experience - forming a sense of pleasure and directly affecting mood.

Eating sweets increases dopamine - causing the brain to experience pleasure. In experiments, animals preferred sugar to many illegal drugs.

The key problem with dopamine is the need to increase the dose consumed in order to achieve the usual effect, as well as the need for variety (the brain quickly tires of monotonous stimulation).

How do sugar cravings form?

There are several theories why sugar and sweets are the ones our brains like so much. One is that eating ripe fruit and honey prepares the body for a long winter, as well as putting on extra fat to protect us from hunger.

The second theory considers children’s love of higher sugar content in foods, which is probably a case of a growing body needing extra calories. Similarly, the craving for sugar is established for the rest of one’s life.

But as with other addictions, habitual consumption and the association with pleasurable moments, such as a relaxing cup of tea with sugar, play a role.

Relationship to blood glucose levels

Immediately after consuming sugar (a source of fast carbohydrates), blood glucose levels rise - causing a rush of energy and affecting improved performance.

However, when glucose levels decrease, a characteristic feeling of slight hunger and a clouded consciousness appears - taken by many as genuine hunger.

It is necessary to understand that our organism rarely received such stimulation by fast carbohydrates - for thousands of years there were no 24-hour supermarkets with sweets.

Cravings for sweets - how to fight them?

The first step in fighting an addiction is to understand how and why it negatively affects your life. The uncontrolled consumption of sweets is associated with gaining extra weight, the deterioration of the intestinal microflora, and the development of diabetes.

The rejection of the usual brain stimulation almost always leads to the formation of “withdrawal syndrome” - and the associated severe mood swings, problems with performance, sleep disorders and other difficulties.

How to give up sweets - instructions

Consider a few practical tips to help reduce the consumption of sweets:

1. Set yourself up for a long-term result - do not give up sugar at once and forever. If it is possible, it will be extremely difficult. It is better to gradually reduce the dose over a month.

2. Stop using sweets as an emotional boost - avoid situations when you use sugar to improve your mood or to fight boredom.

3. Don’t keep sugar at home and don’t buy sugary baked goods - the less the sweets remind you of themselves in everyday life, the easier it is to give them up.

4. Avoid products with sugar - sweet juices, carbonated drinks, sweetened yoghurts, milkshakes, ice cream, etc.

5. Eat more fiber and complex carbohydrates - eating vegetables and whole grains helps stabilize blood glucose levels.

Current scientific position

In an explanatory note, the scientists point out that it’s a mistake to think of the solution to sugar withdrawal as simple advice like “start eating less sugar.

Sugar creates a complex mechanism of addiction - one that requires both time and a conscious effort and understanding of how it affects the brain.