Before we move forward with our topic of sugar addiction, let’s step back for a second and think about the role of sugar in our everyday diets. How many times have you opened a fresh pack of cookies with the intention of eating only a few but end up eating everything? One cookie seems to lead to the next and then the entire pack disappears. We’ve all been there before. This sort of thing happens all the time, but have you ever wondered why? Recent research studies show that humans are programmed from an early age to crave sugar. Scientists even go as far as to say that sugar is a drug to our brains.
Although excessive sugar intake is bad, we do require sugar in order for our bodies to function properly. The simple sugar glucose in the food we consume is absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream. It then gets distributed to all the cells of the body. Glucose is vital to the brain, because it fuels the one hundred billion neurons that keep us alive. Neurons lack the ability to store glucose so they rely on the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply. For this reason, someone with low blood sugar can quickly lapse into a coma.
The problem we are facing is that refined sugar is too readily available. This is the reason why childhood obesity rates have sky-rocketed. In the United States, the average adult consumes 22 teaspoons (355 calories) of sugar each day. However, the recommended intake is only six teaspoons (100 calories) for women and nine teaspoons (150 calories) for men. Wow! Back in the early 1800’s, Americans were consuming only 3.8 teaspoons of sugar per day. The increase in sugar intake has ushered in an array of serious health risks.
We have a love/hate relationship with sugar. Our taste buds love the sweet sensation, but we know excessive sugar intake is BAD. If you blame your craving for sugar on your unsatisfiable sweet tooth, there is important information that you are missing. In a recent study designed to shed light on the potential addictiveness of high-fat/ high-sugar foods, researchers found that rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment. They also found that when the rats ate the Oreos, more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” were activated than exposure to cocaine or morphine. When activated, the “pleasure center” releases opioids that fuel a craving for more sugar. Our bodies learn to want and need more of the substance that make it feel good.
Halloween is just a trick and a treat away. Grocery stores are pushing candy like crazy and it is getting harder and harder to resist.