Our cravings are not random. You may have noticed that the more you eat foods high in sugar, the more you want them... This happens because sugar can be addictive, and this is more common than you think.
It is believed that sugar can create addictions as strong as cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol. In fact, it is easier to quit smoking than to let go of our food addictions.
How is this addiction created? Well, it has been discovered that the same increase in dopamine receptors that occurs when cocaine is consumed happens when we have intermittent access to sugar or glucose. Sugar consumption elicits the same satisfying high and craving that you get with highly addictive drugs, and it appears to be even more rewarding than cocaine. This causes its consumption or lack of it to alter our mood and that there is a search for foods rich in sugar.
In animals, sugar has been shown to produce symptoms such as cravings, binges, increased tolerance, gratification, opioid effects, and withdrawal syndrome, making it, by definition, an addictive substance. In an experiment on rats in 2007, it was observed that 94% of them, who could have access to cocaine or sugar, chose sugar, even those who were already addicted to cocaine.
This is already quite worrying, but if you are not convinced yet, human studies show that after consuming sugar for weeks or months something called “dopamine deficiency” occurs, which begins to cause withdrawal symptoms, which causes us to continue consuming more and more… and increasing amounts are needed to avoid this effect, just like with drugs. Withdrawal symptoms may not be as obvious as with other drugs, but it has been suggested that it can lead to hyperactivity, headaches, mood swings, attention deficit, distraction, and decreased performance. And this is not the only response in our brain, because in subsequent studies it has been shown that the consumption of sugar activates areas of the brain that are activated by consuming substances such as cocaine or morphine, and sometimes, sugar can activate even more neurons.
What happens to our insulin levels is also crucial to explain their addiction, because after consuming sugar, especially in high amounts, we can have an increase in our blood glucose followed by a large drop caused by the insulin that is released to counteract this effect. This makes our body believe that it is important to eat again to stabilize our glucose levels. And this cycle repeats over and over again.
Therefore, the growing need and desire we have to consume sugar is not uncommon, and it can lead to health problems such as overweight, obesity, diabetes mellitus II, among others.
The only way to solve this problem is to reduce our consumption of sugar progressively to try to eliminate the addiction. You can start by removing soda and sugary drinks from your diet and replacing them with natural water or fruit water, and follow different strategies to avoid sabotaging yourself such as not having sweets or highly processed foods on hand, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep (because the lack of sleep can increase cravings for sugary foods) and focus more on consuming natural and less processed foods. Keep in mind that you may experience withdrawal symptoms for the first few days, but once the withdrawal symptoms go away, you will start to feel much better.
Dinicolantonio, J., O'Keefe, J., & L. Wilson, W. (2017, August). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal of sports medicine, 52(14), 1-5. Researchgate. 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971
Dowker, M. (2018). Crack the sugar habit. WellBalance. https://wellbalance.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Crack-the-sugar-habit-ebook.pdf
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