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Q&A: Help! Can I really be addicted to sugar?


Q&A: Help! Can I really be addicted to sugar?

Possibly! A young body of research shows that the “feel good” portions of our brains that are affected by street drugs are also affected by sugar. Studies show that just looking at pictures of sugary treats triggers changes in research subjects’ brains, similar to the changes in the brains of people on drugs.

However, that doesn’t offer proof that we can be physically addicted to sugar. For now, our answer is that more research is needed. What we do know concretely is that sugary foods like soda, cookies, and candy cause almost immediate spikes in blood sugar that are followed by plummets in blood sugar. Those spikes feel awesome — a “high”, if you will. The plummets – well, they’re low, often resulting in mood swings, shakes, and sleepiness. If you find yourself reaching for sweets to stave off sleepiness, boredom, or hunger, you could be setting yourself up for a cycle that is very much like a drug addiction. Sugary food —> energy high —> blood sugar plummet —> energy low —> craving for sugary food to undo the low… and so on. It’s not just sweets either — refined carbohydrates like pretzels, white bread, and chips can also cause this blood sugar high/low scenario.

If you’ve been overdoing it on sweets, your taste buds might be a bit dulled to sweet things (i.e. you need more of them to make you register sweetness). The good news is that your taste buds are malleable — so, a few weeks with less sugar in your daily food and beverage choices can get your taste buds back in tip top shape. If you think that you might be eating a little too much of the white stuff (sugar, refined carbs), then try these tips:

1. Eat only whole, non-processed foods for a week. This means no cake, cookies, bread (even whole wheat), chips, and crackers. If you want carbs, get them from fruit, starchy veggies (potatoes, corn, peas, winter squash), beans, and cooked whole grains (quinoa, wheat berries, barley, wild rice). See how you feel. Then move on to #3.

2. Cut the sugar you put in your tea, coffee, cereal, oatmeal, etc. by one half for a week. Then, cut it by another half the second week. Finally, skip it altogether the third week. If you want sweetness, add fruit to things like cereal, plain yogurt, and oats. Then, move on to #3.

3. Give yourself a daily treat bank account. Try incorporating 100-150 calories of sweet treats or refined carbs into your daily diet, but dedicate the rest of your calories to whole foods (you can also eat whole grain bread, tortillas, etc. after the first week).

Is your sugar intake something you think about? What are your tricks for staying away from the sweet stuff?

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