When most people think about sugar, they imagine homemade cookies or wrapped candies. While everyone knows that eating too many of these things is bad for their health, a growing number of people are suggesting that sugar is actually a harmful substance, and it is possible to become addicted to sugar. While this might seem far-fetched to many people who have been eating sugar their whole lives, there is growing evidence that supports this hypothesis. So, What is sugar addiction?
There is a growing movement among many nutritionists to classify sugar as an addictive substance. Essentially, when a person consumes sugar in any form, it releases the chemical dopamine. This chemical activates the areas of the brain that feel pleasure. The brain is “programmed” to seek out substances that activate this area. This means that people who consume sugar are more likely to continue to seek out sugar.
In practical terms, this means that people who consume sugar are more likely to develop a taste for the substance. As they continue to eat foods with high levels of sugar they will want more foods with even higher levels of sugar. That means it will be much harder for them to stop eating sugar.
How much sugar should you get?
Because every person is different, there is no single answer to the question of how much sugar a person should get per day. Obviously, a small child will need a lot less sugar than an adult who regularly runs marathons. Therefore, nutritionists have created a couple of guidelines for people who are looking to control their diets. So, how many grams of sugar a day should a person eat? How much sugar is too much?
To start, the minimum amount of carbohydrates (which includes all forms of sugar) that a person needs to consume each day in order to remain healthy is 130 grams. Any amount less than this can lead to health problems. It is important to note, however, that the vast majority of people in developed nations meet this requirement with very little effort.
According to the World Health Organization, a person’s diet would consist of no more than 10% sugar. To put that another way, a person consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat no more than 50 grams of sugar a day. For Americans, that’s about 12 teaspoons of sugar. The National Academy of Sciences Dietary Reference Intake states that the typical diet should get no more than 25% of its calories from sugar. That’s about 125 grams or 32 teaspoons for someone on a 2,000 calorie diet. The USDA recommends that a person only consumes 6 to 10% of their daily calories from sugar.
Of course, it is important to note that all of these numbers include all of the calories and sugar consumed. Most people make the assumption that these figures only refer to added sugar, such as what is found in soda and candy. There are a lot of naturally occurring sugars found in fruit, vegetable, and grain, however. For this reason, an number of nutritionists suggest that a typical person aims to have zero added sugars in his or her diet.
Needless to say, very few people actually manage to pull this off. Even if a person is successful at eliminating all so-called “junk” food from his or her diet, there are added sugars in everything from tomato sauce to salad dressing. To truly accomplish this feat, some people choose to cook everything from scratch. For the typical person, however, this is incredibly time consuming. Therefore, most people who want to break their sugar addiction try to limit their intake as much as possible.
What happens when you consume too much sugar?
Because sugar seems to be in so many foods, a lot of people find themselves consuming more of this substance than what is considered healthy. Unfortunately, this can have some serious health repercussions.
An increased sugar intake almost goes hand in hand with an increased calorie intake. That’s because sugar often replaces ingredients such as vegetable or whole grain in recipes, making them more calorie dense. This substitution also happens to make these foods less filling, causing people to eat more of them. Finally, the addition of sugar can trigger the symptoms of sugar addiction, causing a person to crave more foods with sugar.
The most obvious consequence of increased caloric intake is weight gain. Gaining weight can lead to obesity. People who suffer from obesity have been shown to have higher rates of heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and other issues. Carrying extra weight can also make exercise much more difficult and in some extreme cases unhealthy. This can make it very difficult for obese people to lose the weight and maintain healthy habits.
Besides weight gain, a large amount of sugar can have a very detrimental effect on other bodily organs. Most notably, it can cause serious damage to the pancreas, effecting its ability to produce insulin. If the pancreas cannot produce this chemical, the body will not be able to break down and process sugar effectively. This can lead to the development of diabetes.
The problem with sugar consumption is that as a person consumes sugar, their brain chemistry is changed so that they continue to want foods with higher amounts of sugar. For this reason, breaking a sugar addiction is much harder than simply deciding to eat better food.
How to break sugar addiction
Because consuming sugar actually alters brain chemistry, it is much harder to break a sugar addiction than most people assume. For years, the standard advice has been to go on a diet that avoids refined sugars. Essentially, doctors have been telling their patients to simply stop eating the foods that are making them unhealthy. Breaking sugar addiction is much harder than this, however.
People with an addiction to sugar, however, can find this advice to be next to impossible to follow. In fact, people who suffer from the strongest addictions are often the ones who most need to break it. Fortunately, there are two ways to go about breaking a sugar addiction.
Sugar addiction detox is a method in which a person chooses to completely avoid sugar for at least three days (sometimes up to a week) in order to “cleanse” the body of this substance. These diets can be very extreme, since they force a person to avoid both added and natural sugars. That means no fruit, few vegetables, no bread, very little dairy, and absolutely no junk food. Essentially, a person will eat a few prescribed vegetables and meats until their system is rid of all sugars. After this, natural sugars, such as those found in fruit and whole grain bread, can be added back into the diet.
This extreme diet is typically not recommended to most people because it can have some immediate physical effects. Many people who have tried it report that they experienced so called sugar withdrawal. This usually takes the form of headaches and fatigue that last for several days. It is not recommended for people who have other health issues. People who have gone through the program, however, report that after they add natural sugars back into their diet these symptoms disappear, and they feel much healthier.
An alternative to this plan is to gradually reduce the amount of refined sugar that is consumed. This plan allows a person to keep eating fruit, small amounts of dairy products, and some whole grains. While this plan does not have immediate side effects, many people report that they still feel the craving for sugar after eating this way for several weeks.
Sugar addiction is a serious problem for many people, but there are ways to overcome this addiction without resorting to extreme measures. Like any harmful substance, however, it’s ideal to not develop an addiction in the first place. Take steps to control your sugar intake in order to avoid long term health consequences.