Excellent article by Dr. Richard Friedman offering more possible reasons why some people can have a few carbs and turn away, and others can’t leave them alone.
When I read the following article, I just shook my head. I suppose anything can be an excuse for a lawsuit, but it’s hard to fathom that anyone doesn’t know that candy has sugar. (Even so-called sugar-free candies rely heavily on sugar alcohols that have their own problems.) Perhaps the biggest issue for anyone wanting to get off sugars is self-deception and rationalization.
Sugar is all too readily available, and is often hidden under a variety of names meant to make it less obvious. For instance, many foods that once labeled high fructose corn syrup, aware of the bad reputation this hyper-sugar has these days, now simply label “corn solids” that’s corn syrup folks, and “evaporated cane juice” is sugar.
For your education or entertainment:
Yours in getting real,
Nan aka Sugarbaby
Another article on issues related to sugar cravings. I’m glad to see more and more information coming out to address the real problem of far too much sugar in our standard western diets.
Yours in learning,
Nan aka Sugarbaby
Everything You Need to Know About Sugar Cravings
Is sugar really addictive? Experts explain how to kick the cravings for good.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the average American consumes more than 130 pounds of sugar every year.
You just want something sweet. OK, you need something sweet. Some of us just have some really strong sugar cravings at times (or maybe all the time).
And with added sugar in everything from cookies and salad dressings to hamburgers, it’s no surprise that the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the average American puts away more than 130 pounds of the sweet stuff every year. The result? An increased risk of weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and, yes, addiction.
Why You Get Addicted to Sugar
While sugar occurs naturally in healthy foods ranging from dairy to fruits and veggies, added sugars such as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup do more than tickle our taste buds. They tickle our brains. “Data from experiments and controlled studies show that our brains respond to sugar much in the same way as they respond to drugs of abuse,” says research neuroscientist Nicole Avena, assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and author of “Why Diets Fail (Because You’re Addicted to Sugar).”
Avena’s research, published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, shows that, similar to addictive drugs, sugar-bingeing spikes levels of feel-good dopamine (a neurotransmitter your body releases in response to pleasurable activities like sex) and opioids (natural pain-squashing substances that act like morphine and codeine) in the brain. It also sparks heightened activity in the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center, which is linked with addictive behaviors. In fact, a 2015 University of Pennsylvania study reported that deep brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens can mediate both cocaine and sugar addiction in rats.
“Sugar hijacks the brain, in a sense. It makes you feel great, then the come-down makes you feel terrible,” Avena says. Sugar crash, anyone? “This cycle leads to tolerance and needing more sugar to get the same reward or to taste something as being sweet.”
The Origins of Sugar Cravings (or Why You Really Want It)
Just because you crave sugar from time to time doesn’t necessarily mean you’re addicted.
After all, we eat sugar for more reasons than addiction. The big, nature-intended one is for energy. A simple, easy-to-digest carb, sugar is the fastest way to perk up your body when you’re fatigued, sleep-deprived or just feeling hangry, explains Toronto-based registered dietitian Abby Langer. So if you go on a no-carb crash diet that leaves your fuel gauge on empty or you have a bad night’s sleep, yes, you’re going to crave sugar for energy.
Even on a normal day, though, you might experience your energy drop and want sugar. “Around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, the body experiences a drop in alertness due to the fact that the stress hormone cortisol is falling. This decrease leads to a feeling of fatigue, which many of us feed in an effort to increase alertness,” explains registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Laura Cipullo, author of “The Women’s Health Body Clock Diet.”
But you probably aren’t going to crave an orange. You’re going to crave chocolate. For starters, that’s because a single piece of chocolate has more sugar than an entire orange. A whole orange contains about 12 grams of sugar. A bar of chocolate? About 78. Plus, that orange contains more fiber, which is responsible for slowing the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, so you don’t get the same sugar spike with an orange that you would with that chocolate bar.
At the same time (and this is when we start to flirt with addiction), a lot of us mow down on sugar to improve our moods. “Think about it – it’s almost culturally accepted to want sugar when you’re stressed. After someone breaks up with you, what are you expected to do? Eat a pint of ice cream,” Langer says. However, the occasional stress-induced binge can easily turn into emotional dependency and addiction.
How to Overcome Your Sugar Cravings
If you think you reach for sugar due to low energy, simply make sure your body is fueled in the first place, Langer says. Getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night, eating a balanced diet that doesn’t remove whole carbs like whole-wheat pasta and apples, and staying active can all help to reduce cravings. If you believe you’re reaching for the Ben & Jerry’s for emotional reasons, fill the void and practice other, healthy activities that naturally increase dopamine, Cipullo says.
For instance, research from the University of Muenster in Germany shows that running increases levels of dopamine in the brain and, the higher the intensity, the higher the reward. Meanwhile, research published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience shows that mindfulness practices such as meditation increase levels of dopamine and improve mood over the long term.
But if your cravings are a bit more intense, there’s another way. Some people can have full-on withdrawal when they eliminate sugar from their diet. Irritability and headaches are the main ones, but shakes and tremors aren’t uncommon, Avena says. That’s why it’s so important to not go cold turkey.
Plus, since sugar is so rampant in our food supply, telling yourself, “I’m never going to eat sugar again” is unrealistic. “The truth of the matter is, I don’t think it’s possible to remove all sugars from your diet if you want to live like a normal person,” Avena says. “We don’t all have the ability and time to prepare every single item of food we consume and make sure it has zero sugar.”
But you can significantly cut your sugar intake – and your cravings – with a few simple steps. First, identify the biggest sources of added sugar in your diet. For some of us, they’re obvious (e.g. soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages), but don’t overlook salty foods like chips or even bread. Check the label for sugar and any of its aliases, including anhydrous dextrose, cane crystals, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup and molasses, Langer recommends.
Once you identify the top sugar source in your diet, work to phase out that one food. Sub it out with a no-added-sugar healthy alternative. For instance, if you usually drink soda, try tea with lemon. Give it a couple of weeks, check in with yourself and be honest about how you’re doing, Avena says.
Ask yourself: If someone offered you a soda right now, could you turn it down without remorse? If so, it’s time to think about the next sugar-packed food you want to eliminate or cut down on. “As you wean yourself off of sugar, you’ll find that things taste more sweet with less sugar, so it will become easier to consume less,” Langer says.
And back to that orange: Don’t remove fruit from your diet. Most people need to be eating more, not less, of nature’s vitamin-packed candy.
Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS, is a freelance Health & Wellness reporter at U.S. News. As a certified strength and conditioning specialist with a graduate degree in health and science reporting, she has contributed to publications including TIME, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, and Shape. She empowers others to reach their goals using a science-based approach to fitness, nutrition and health. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram, find her on Facebook or the Web or email her at email@example.com.
I keep seeing ever more articles from people like Dr. Schopick who know that indeed sugar is addictive for many people. Always worth theread.
Do you have a sugar addiction?
By Dr. David Schopick
Many of us have a sweet tooth and enjoy a nice dessert or indulging in the occasional candy bar. There is nothing wrong with a treat now and then, but for some, eating sugary foods is a true addiction, and one that can lead to an assortment of health issues. Let’s talk about how to tell if you have a sugar addiction, and how to best treat it.
How do I tell if I have a sugar addiction? Those with a sugar addiction find that they have a serious craving for sugar throughout the day. They may start the morning with a sweet pastry, coffee drink or sweet cereal, then find that by mid-morning they need a soft drink or another sweet snack, and that this pattern repeats throughout the day. In fact, the more sugary foods they eat or drink, the more they need to eat to maintain that sugar “high.” And, as the addiction progresses, they not only need to eat more, they need to eat even sweeter foods to get their “fix.” If they do not eat these foods, they may feel sluggish, grumpy and out of sorts.
Why do we crave sugary foods? To some extent, we are born preferring sweet foods. According to the American Dietetic Association, humans prefer sweet tastes from birth. Sugar also stimulates the same parts of the brain as hard core drugs such as heroin and cocaine. It temporarily provides a “feel good” high, and a burst of energy, but as time goes by, more sugar is needed to produce the same effect. We also see sweet treats as a reward, so eating sugary items plays into this mindset.
Why is a sugar addiction a problem? Sugar is the number one culprit when it comes to weight gain and heart disease. The American Medical Association reports that people who receive more than 25 percent of their daily calories from sugar are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets only included 10 percent added sugar. Consuming excess sugar can lead to diabetes and disrupt the healthy levels of triglycerides in your bloodstream. (These are a type of fat found in your bloodstream and in your fatty tissue.) High triglyceride levels can increase your risk of heart disease. Sugary foods also provide only “empty” calories, meaning these calories are not combined with fiber, vitamins, minerals or other nutrients that benefit the body. When you fill up on sugary foods, you are less apt to eat healthy foods.
How do I fight a sugar addiction? There are a number of ways to help wean yourself away from the excess sugar habit:
Indulge just a little. Try reducing your sweet snacks to just a small cookie or a mini candy bar. Enjoying a little of what you crave can sometimes ease the transition to a healthier diet.
Combine a sweet food with a healthy one: Try mixing small candies like M&Ms with nuts and raisins, or dipping a banana in honey. Again, the overall goal is to transition away from sweet snacks, but reducing sweets while adding healthier foods is a step in the right direction. Try to reduce the sweets to no more than 150 calories.
Quit cold turkey. This approach is not for everyone, but for some it works the best. If you feel that eating even a small amount of sweet foods will trigger you to keep eating more, then the cold turkey approach may be a good fit. Be prepared that the first two or three days may be hard, but your cravings will diminish. Once you’ve cut out the excess sugar for a few weeks, your taste buds will start being satisfied with less.
Chew gum. Chewing gum can help reduce food cravings, but be aware that this practice can be harmful to teeth.
Stock up on healthy snacks. Have fruit, nuts, granola bars, apples with peanut butter, veggies and hummus and other things on hand to feed your cravings. In time, you won’t miss the sweet snacks, plus these kinds of snacks give you fiber and nutrients.
Take a walk. When that sugar craving hits, instead of reaching for a soda, get up from what you are doing and move around. Taking a walk is great because it takes you away from the place where you are used to munching on sugary foods; it gives you exercise — which also releases feel-good hormones, and, if you go outside, you are distracted by the change of scenery. If your job does not allow you to go outside, then try getting up and walking around the building for a bit.
Ye Olde Cobbler in Portsmouth
Remove temptation. To truly kick the sugar habit, try not to have too much in the way of cookies, candy, soft drinks and other sweet snacks in the home or at your office. Remember, excess sugar can also lurk inside yogurts, cereals and store-bought goods. If you want a treat, try to bake something yourself where you can control the amount of sugar used. If your typical route to work regularly takes you by the drive-through with those tempting sweet coffees, alter your route.
Savor small bites. When you do indulge in something sweet, make it a small treat, and really savor it. Eat slowly and let all your senses enjoy the texture, taste and smell. Truly enjoying a good dessert will satisfy your brain and make you less apt to grab for more. (Indulging now and then is actually better than total deprivation, as you are more apt to break your fast and binge when desired foods are withheld.)
Make sure you eat regularly and drink lots of water. Getting too hungry can make you more apt to opt for sugary foods. Similarly, people often feel sluggish and tired because they are dehydrated, so keep the water coming and you’ll keep your energy up — and won’t need that candy bar.
Avoid artificial sweeteners as these will not lessen your cravings for sugar.
Plan your meals and snacks. This will help you map out healthy alternatives in advance.
Reward yourself for successfully reducing your sugar intake. If you can make it through a week without excess sugar, treat yourself to movie or other outing. Give yourself an incentive to keep kicking the sugar habit.
What if I need more help? In some cases, there are mental health issues behind the sugar addiction, just as there can be mental health issues behind other food issues. Depression, anxiety, abuse — all of these can lead to issues with food, including sugar addiction. If you have tried repeatedly to reduce your sugar intake without success, it may be time to talk to a mental health professional or a nutritionist. Sugar addiction can be overcome with the proper guidance.
Remember, no one becomes addicted to sugar overnight, and that this is a true addiction. It may take time to undo years of a bad habit, but it is possible and you will be healthier for it. Better choices will help you feel more energized and put you on the path to a healthier life.
Dr. David Schopick is a psychiatrist in private practice in Portsmouth. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in adult, adolescent and child psychiatry and has been serving patients in the Greater Seacoast area and beyond for more than 25 years. For information, call 431-5411 or visit www.schopickpsychiatry.com.
Sugar is hidden under wide range of names, so in order to know if you are getting added sugars, you must read labels. Usually if the sugar is fourth or more on the list, there is very little added sugar, but that isn’t 100% certain. To avoid sugar, you don’t want it on the label at all. Here are the usual suspects:
SUGAR BY ITS MANY NAMES
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrates
High-fructose corn syrup
Cane juice crystals
Corn syrup solids
Fruit juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup
Giving up sugar is not one bit easier than giving up any other addictive substance. In fact, I know a couple people who through AA gave up liquor only to then really struggle to give up sugars and starches.
What to expect: like giving up coffee, if you go cold-turkey, headaches, fatigue, crankiness, and very big cravings are all such symptoms to anticipate for usually 3-5 days. However, if you systematically plan to eliminate these addictive foods, and have good discipline, you can cut down sugar more slowly with little to no pain.
Keep a food diary of what you do eat/drink during this time. Each week builds, so you keep what you do in the first week when you start week two, and so on.
Week 1) No added sugar in any form (in beverages, desserts, any food)–certainly no junk food. If you feel headachy, that would be a good time for a small apple, a few berries, or a cheese stick.
Week 2) Stop any flours, regardless of how they are promoted as healthy, for carbohydrate sensitive people they are addictive, and indeed are broken down to the very same blood glucose as any other overt sugar. Increase your green and red veggies.
Week 3) Examine the foods you have been eating and determine if they are foods with high starch and added sugars. Cut back the obvious kinds of sugars-starches, especially packaged foods that nearly always have added sugars &/or starch.
Week 4) Now is the time to really get serious, and eliminate artificial sweeteners, save for modest amounts of natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, and a small amount of xylitol or erythritol (these can create intestinal issues like excess bloating/gas).
One month and you should have an at least 80% or better clean eating plan. You can refine from that point to get your perfect balance, and you will no longer be a sugaraholic. Most people following this plan will drop weight, sometimes a lot of weight. All will be healthier, and on the road to all around excellent health.
Yours in good health,
Nan aka Sugarbaby