Why Am I Craving Sugar?

eating dessertIs there anything better than sitting down after a long day and enjoying your favorite dessert?  Those moments of sugary goodness are pure ecstasy at times.

But what about those moments where we opt to say no but then can’t stop the cravings?

What’s going on inside that makes it seemingly impossible to turn away?  What is this addiction and why does it seem worse at times than other times?

Sugar addiction is real.  Like any addiction, it grabs hold and won’t let go until you feed it full as an over-sized tick on your favorite pooch.

Let’s take a look at some surprising statistics on the consumption of sugar in the United States (the worst sugar addicts) and then we’ll look at how sugar addiction happens.

Sugar in America FAQs

How much sugar do we eat p/ year?
We average over 165 pounds of dietary sugar per person, every year. That’s nearly 15 tablespoons of sugar consumed by every person, every day!
Compare that to the 1800s, when the average daily intake was 18 pounds a year.

How much soda do Americans drink?
sugar in cokeHalf of all Americans drink at least one soda every day. One soda equals 55 pounds of sugar ingested every year.
Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee are the top three states for obesity. All three states are in the top in soda consumption with 71-80 gallons of soda consumed p/ year.

Am I getting enough daily sugar?
Most people get over the recommended daily allowance of sugar before breakfast is over.

Got sugar on the brain?
Sugar stimulates the brain’s release of dopamine and serotonin, producing a euphoric effect similar to illicit drugs.

Does yogurt have too much sugar?
Check the label on your favorite yogurt. Fat free fruit yogurt has over 180% more sugar than plain Greek yogurt.

How Sugar Addiction Happens

Let’s delve into how you get addicted to sugar.

Despite the many different explanations offered up on why sugar addiction happens, there is a common denominator that most theorists agree on; Sugar affects brain chemistry and the chemicals involved create addictive behavior.

Sugar is a drug and it has addictive properties.  Princeton Scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel, released information in a 2008 study confirming that sugar fulfills the criterion for substances that we define as addictive.  His “sugar rats” confirmed changes in brain function when consuming sugar.

The sweet taste of sugar activates our brain’s receptor sites.  These are the exact same sites that are triggered by heroine and morphine.

What are Dopamine & Serotonin?

We have already established that sugar stimulates dopamine and serotonin.  The former is a neurotransmitter that activates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  The latter is a hormone known to influence happiness, contentment and depression.

A major theory suggests that ingesting sugar increases tryptophan (an amino acid) absorption and this causes your body to make more serotonin, making you happy again, if only for the moment.

All this time, we’ve been blaming sugar for everything.
It turns out we’re just addicted to dopamine and serotonin!

A PubMed Study confirmed that sugar binges release Dopamine and that “sugar can have effects similar to a drug of abuse.”

How to Beat Sugar Addiction

This one won’t be easy.  A habit that’s been continually developed for years and years is going to be tough to break.  And sugar, in moderation, has been proven to have a positive effect on the body, especially in athletes or those who “sweat it out” on a daily basis.  Trying to decide “how much sugar is too much” is a decision you’ll have to make for yourself.

sugarAs a self-professed recovering sugarholic, my most successful method of sugar abstinence is to feed myself every few hours throughout the day, once my hunger starts.  For me, that’s skipping breakfast altogether, enjoying a black coffee and then starting the feeding cycle everyday around noon.

I don’t do low calorie.  I do low-carb, high-protein and I eat foods that are both good for me and plain ol’ good.  This keeps the sweet cravings at bay better than anything else I’ve tried.

If you’re one that needs to slow down on sugar or quit altogether, you’ll need to change your relationship with food.  It’s a mental game but choose to eat for health instead of eating for pleasure and the long-term rewards are yours. Realize that cutting out all that sugar not only rewards your health but keeps those glycogen levels down and lets you burn fat!

Simply choosing to lower sugar consumption and focusing on moderation will likely be enough for most to achieve the benefits of a healthier body and happier life.

References:

  • American Heart Association
  • American Diabetes Association
  • International Dairy Foods Association
  • Lick the Sugar Habit, 2nd Edition
  • Depression and Anxiety – Volume 16, Issue 3, pages 118–120, 2002
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