The question on whether an addiction to sugar is possible is a topic with much debate. Most the time people consume sugar in combination with fat or protein, but not usually pure sugar. The majority of experimental studies done on sugar are tested in animals as pure sugar. These studies have shown how pure sugar affects behaviors and the brain and if there are any connections to the way drug addictions affect behaviors and the brain.
In one study, sugar was given at regular intervals each day and then withheld for a portion of the day. This pattern occurred for several weeks until sugar was withheld completely, to mimic abstinence. The brain was affected by sugar intake in a very similar way as the brain is affected by drugs. After the period of abstinence, sugar was consumed by binging, meaning it was consumed in large amounts; this is similar behavior to compulsive drug users. The animals showed behavioral depression during the withdrawal period and they had cravings that increased the longer sugar was withheld; again, these behaviors parallel drug users. It was shown that after a period of abstinence there was an increase in alcohol intake, suggesting that sugar could be a gateway to alcohol use. This study showed that sugar can be addictive when it is consumed in a binge-like manner. The effects on the body and brain are similar to what occurs in the body and brain with drug use, but in a minimal amount.
Some suggestions to minimize sugar in the diet:
- Avoid fat free products which often contain more sugar.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners because they don’t satisfy sugar cravings and can lead to weight gain.
- Increase exercise which releases serotonin for a “feel good” effect.
- Get a good night’s sleep so you don’t feel sleepy the next day and reach for a sugar pick-me-up.
- Keep healthy snacks nearby and eat regularly – nuts, fruit, and cheese are good options.
- Chew gum because it helps reduce afternoon cravings.
- Educate yourself on the risks of consuming too much sugar and the benefits of avoiding it.
Contributed by Camille Osborne, Dietetics Student
Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(1), 20–39.
Kirkpatrick, K. (2013, September 19). Addicted to Sugar? 7 Steps You Need to Take Before You Can Break Free. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristin-kirkpatrick-ms-rd-ld/sugar-addiction-_b_3861957.html