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Are you addicted to sugar?

Updated on June 27, 2009

Is there such a thing as sugar addiction?

Some people swear they are addicted to sugar. But, there is a lot of controversy over whether sugar craving is just that; a craving, a habit, or an addiction. The FDA says that, in order for a substance to be an addiction, it must cause a craving, be hazardous to your well being, and even knowing that, you still use it. According to Allen Levine,PhD, if you adhere to this definition, then foods; such as sugary and fatty ones, could cause addiction.

On the other hand, many experts in the field say, it's more likely that sweet cravings are a potent combination of of nostalgia (grandma's chocolate chip cookies), habit (always having dessert after a meal) and chemical attraction (the post sugar rush caused by a spike in blood sugar and the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin in your brain.)

Research

For some people, giving up sugar has the same cognitive and behavior modification skills needed to stop smoking and drinking. Many studies have been done in this area, mostly on rats. Research has revealed that rats have the same withdrawal symptoms, including shaking and teeth chattering that people do. Jan Ulbrecht, professor at the College of Health and Human Development concluded that "...the human body does not become physically dependent on sugar the way it does on opiates like morphine and heroin; ...therefore, it is not addictive."

And, Cynthia Bartok, director of Center for Childhood Obesity at Penn State, states that "Despite the anecdotal reports of people who claim to be addicted to sugar, and seemingly endless websites devoted to sugar addiction, modern science has not yet validated that idea." 

However, "...other results from studies conducted on lab rats are pretty eye-opening", says Professor Bart Hoebel, a scientist at Princeton University, who observed in rats patterns of increased sugar intake, withdrawal, and relapse — all typical characteristics of addiction. Rats who were deprived of sugar for periods of time seemed even more anxious to consume it when it was reintroduced.

Hoebel has shown that rats eating large amounts of sugar when hungry, a phenomenon he describes as sugar-binging, undergo neurochemical changes in the brain that appear to mimic those produced by substances of abuse, including cocaine, morphine and nicotine. His conclusion is that sugar is, indeed, addictive.

Whether or not sugar is an addiction, a habit, or a craving are questions that are still in the hands of the researchers. Studies continue to be conducted, and maybe some day they will have a definitive answer. Nevertheless, we think of sugar as food, and don't usually believe it is harmful. But, we know it is an unnatural substance with no nutritive value.

Is sugar harmful to the body?

Major damage can happen if you eat too many foods with added sugars, which tend to be high in calories. Those extra calories get stored as fat. You may not think of sugar when you think of corn, but corn is the source of corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCF) , both of which sweeten many foods. Some of the foods that most people don't think of as being high in sugar are: frozen breakfast foods, salad dressings, canned soups, crackers, mayonnaise, tomato sauces, and bottled and canned fruit juices.

Sugar cane or sugar beets are refined to pure sucrose after all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, and other beneficial nutrients are stripped away. All we get is a concentrated sweet that the human body is not able to handle, at least not in the massive quantity that is now ingested. And we also know that damage to our bodies from sugar is slow and insidious, taking years to ruin health. Over time, the cost is huge, as sugar harms us in many ways.

Research into sugar's side effects reveals that the role it plays in overweight and obesity can lead to Illnesses and complications that include diabetes, gallbladder disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, sleep apnea, coronary artery disease, osteoarthritis, gout, breast, endometrial, pancreatic, or colon cancer, and low back pain. With an estimated 1,200 people dying daily from weight-related illnesses, the crisis has reached epidemic proportions.

It's possible to eat refined sugar and have an overall healthy diet, but the amount needs to be controlled. US dietary guideline say that for 2000 calories a day, you can have 32 grams of added sugar, which isn't much. One cup of sweetened cereal can have up to 20 grams. Unfortunately, sugar is in a wide variety of packaged and processed foods that we eat every day and we may not be aware of how much we are really eating.

Cutting down on your sugar intake

If you feel you want to cut down on your sugar intake, there are some things you can do to help you break the habit:

  • Read labels. The first 5 ingredients listed make up most of what is in the packaged food.
  • Watch what you drink. Juices and sodas are loaded with sugar.
  • Buy or make homemade food. It contains a lot less sugar.
  • Alter recipes. Cut the sugar in half or use apple sauce for cakes and cookies.
  • Make a list of the desserts you are eating. You may be surprised.
  • Cut out or down artificial sweeteners. They are also addictive or habit forming
  • Keep candy or sugary treats out of sight.
  • Switch to eating fruit or yogurt for dessert
  • Drink fresh squeezed fruit juice or whole fruit


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    • profile image

      Patricia 5 years ago

      Your video was fantastic. I have been feeling so crapy.

      Actually I have had this problem sense my 20's and now I am 58. The symptoms are getting worse. If I eat sweets or pizza for a week, 4 days later I have pain in my joints, muscles, headaches and extremely tired and depressed. I feel like I am going to die. I also have constapation problems for many years and I think its from all the donuts I've ate over the yrs. And I am a thin person.

      So thank you so much for how you explained how the body works. You are a great teacher. I plan to be more serious about getting sugar out of my diet!

    • alekhouse profile image
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      Nancy Hinchliff 6 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      My advice is to talk to your doctor.

    • profile image

      chatterbox31 6 years ago

      reserch or not you can be addicted to suger if i dont get my carb,s or pop in a day i get shaky moody, and week and tird my puples dialate as if i am on harroine or cokain. docoter have ask me what drug i am on when i have had to go to the doctor when i have no carb or suger. i have cut it out for three years but caved in when my daught got cancer. know it even harder to get off and my dughter is showing sign of the same issue and lost on how to get here out before she gets to be as bad as me any addvise?

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I know what you mean, I have the same problem....not the bypass but the hunger for sugar.

    • profile image

      MaryFran 7 years ago

      I am DEFINITELY addicted to sugar....I can't seem to stay away from it. After gastric bypass I did quite well for many years, but now the hunger for sugar has returned.

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Yeah, me too...sugar junkie. Thanks for the comments.

    • Maxvon profile image

      Maxvon 7 years ago from U.K.

      Great videos - a bit cruel showing all those lovely sweets though! - I wonder how long these cravings will last (self-confessed sugar junkie)thanks Max :)

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Good observation...you are so right. Thanks for stopping by.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I am not too addicted using sugar. But I use it wisely. When I make some tea, I put it not too much. I think the sweety tea is not good for our healthy. we have to stay away from diabetes.

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I know it takes a little getting used to at first, but it's amazing how easy it can be once it becomes a habit. Thanks for the comments.

    • chicamom85 profile image

      chicamom85 8 years ago

      Very good information. My husband is diabetic and now my daughter is showing the tendencies. I have completely changed the way I cook and it is suprisingly easy to adjust to.

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      The Oreo thing? Yeah, I think I'd count that. Thanks for the nice comments.

    • jennifer maurer profile image

      Jennifer Maurer 8 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Would eating a row (or two) of Oreos per day qualify as having a sugar addiction? (I won't even mention the Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey...)

      Seriously, great hub. Very informative with great visuals.

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      The ice cream I would n't be able to resist, for sure. I have a terrible sweet tooth and have to really watch myself. Thanks for the comments

    • mayhmong profile image

      mayhmong 8 years ago from North Carolina

      I guess I have an addiction to sugar after reading this?! Good thing I can't consume sodas but ice cream with cherry's on the top? Who could resist that?!

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Maggs, I love carbs too. It's so easy to get hooked on them. However, my body really does better on high protein. Thanks for the comments.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 8 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I only drink the diet drinks with zero sugar and I have saccharine in my hot drinks instead of sugar but I am a carbohydrate junkie I am OK if I can almost cut them out, but once I start on carbohydrates the more I have the more I seem to want. As a result my weight is a problem either that or I am the right weight but two feet shorter that I should be Lol.

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      GT: Well, that urge you get every day just may be you addiction. Try staying off of it for 3 or 4 days. Sometimes the urge will go away after that length of time. Maybe drink ice tea or ice cold water.

      KCC: That's what I did. I do not drink sodas. I drink ice tea, lemonade (lite on the sugar) and water. Wow! corn syrup in canned beans? Didn't know that.

      Hugh: Good idea, about the fruit. It's nutritious besides having natural sugars.

      Thanks to all for the comments

    • Hugh Chism profile image

      Hugh Chism 8 years ago

      Good advice, I must make sure I have always had some fruit around to snack on instead of sweets.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      KCC Big Country 8 years ago from Central Texas

      I gave up sodas 10 weeks ago and have tried to limit other types of sugar intake. I do feel much better. Corn syrup is in things you wouldn't think it would be, such as canned beans. You really have to watch it!

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 8 years ago from Free and running....

      I've been bad about the soda lately. Tryin' to cut back but I get that ruge everyday.

    • alekhouse profile image
      Author

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Hey, Ivorwen, thanks for stopping by and the comments.

    • Ivorwen profile image

      Ivorwen 8 years ago from Hither and Yonder

      I've been giving the amount of sugar we use some serious thought lately. Addicting or not, I know that refined sugar is not good for the body. :)