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The Addictive Nature of Sugar

Those of you who have attended my Food Rules lecture have heard me speak about the addictive nature of sugar. In fact, I am always willing to share that I believe myself to be a recovering sugar addict.

There is burgeoning research and scientific findings confirming that food, especially sugar, can be addictive. PET scans show that high-sugar and high-fat foods work just like heroin, opium, or morphine in the brain. (i) There are also studies that show sugar addiction seems to be linked to lower dopamine receptors in the brain. (ii) This would imply that individuals with a sugar addiction need more sugar to light of the brain’s reward circuitry than people who are not sensitive to sugar.

When you look at the illustration below, it is not difficult to imagine why many people have trouble with sugar. Perhaps our environment has changed at a pace unmatched by our brain evolution. Whatever the cause, I believe it is worth examining your relationship with sugar. Start paying attention to how well you handle sugar and how much sugar you consume in a day. You may find that altering your sugar intake greatly reduces overall food cravings and assists in your weight loss.

If you do decide to reduce your sugar intake, be patient. Chances are that your set-point for sweetness is elevated so foods that are naturally sweet, such as fruit, may not taste that sweet to you for some time. You might also have some intense cravings as you reduce your sugar. Those cravings should lessen significantly within two weeks and your sweetness set-point will normalize in a few months.

 If you are anything like me, you won’t miss the sugar after just 3 months without it. I’ve never looked back with longing or regret and sugar has lost its allure.

(i) Volkow, N.D., Wang, G.J., J.S., et al 2002 “Nonhedonic” food motivation in humans involves dopamine in the dorsal striatum and methylphenidate amplifies this Synapse. 44(3):175-180.

(ii) Calantuoni, C., Schwenker, J., McCarthy, P., et al. 2001. Excessive sugar intake alters binding to dopamine and mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Neuroreport. 12(16): 3549-3552.

Nursing Your Sweet Tooth
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