The one thing that has likely sabotaged millions of people’s good intentions to eat better is sugar. Available scientific evidence shows that refined sugar can induce reward and craving mechanisms in our physiology that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs, including cocaine. In fact, neurobiologists have discovered that sugar can be even more addictive than cocaine. This is ample reason why so many people have a difficult time refusing to consume foods filled with sugar.
So, how do you fight against such a strong neurological, biochemical addiction? How do you kick the sugar habit?
Withdrawal from chronic sugar consumption can be just as difficult, with just as many side effects, as going ‘cold turkey’ from heavy drugs, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Part of the reason people have such a hard time kicking sugar is because of its effect on our dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemical) secreted by our bodies, which causes us to feel pleasure and to seek out certain activities (such as certain foods, certain physical actions like exercise or love-making, giving or getting hugs, etc.) as a reward.
Dopamine is like a carrot on a stick. When we do something that feels good, more dopamine is released, causing the brain to seek out that pleasurable feeling on future occasions with the same behavior. Cocaine and amphetamines inhibit the re-uptake of dopamine. Oddly, so does the chronic consumption of refined sugar.
A small dalliance in eating sugar can cause a temporary dopamine increase, but long-term, consistent consumption of sugar actually causes a reduction in dopamine levels, causing us, ironically, to seek ever greater amounts of sugar to feel the same ‘high’ which sugar originally promised, just like in a typical drug addiction.
The body ‘adapts’ to the substance, and then requires more of it to remain in the physiological state that the substance induces. This is because sugar, like drugs, interferes with the normal neural communication between our cells, hormones, immune system and nervous system.
While some studies suggest that the same pharmaceutical drugs used to treat nicotine addiction might be successful in treating a sugar addiction, there are other, more natural ways to reverse a sugar habit.
The health risks associated with high sugar consumption are well documented. Since sugar offers absolutely no nutritional support, and only a high level of calories per gram consumed, it is a big contributor to obesity, and all the health issues that come along with this epidemic, including heart failure, diabetes, reduced immunity and depression.
Sadly, the food industry often hides processed and refined sugars in many of the foods people purchase, without them being aware. A single slice of pizza might have as much sugar in the sauce as eight cookies, for example. While people may take great strides to try to reduce their sugar consumption, without vigilant study of food labels, they are still eating entirely too much sugar.
Moreover, according to a recent study published in JAMA International Medicine, the sugar industry paid billions to downplay the effect of sugar on our health, and to instead shift the blame to fats. It is only in recent years that science re-discovered that healthy fats are not only better for us than refined sugar, but vital to our health, and even to the maintenance of our weight.
Belly fat, specifically, is also an indication of sugar addiction, since the spikes in our insulin levels directly affect hormones which cause us to store fat in this area.
It is for these reasons that sugar addiction should be taken seriously, and that people should be informed of ways to reverse the habit. Here is a list of things you can do to help reverse the hormonal and neurochemical imbalance caused in your body by the regular consumption of sugar.
1. Exercise – When we get a natural high from movement, we are less likely to need a ‘false’ high from eating sugar. If you are worried that doing a good workout will make you hungry, consider that high-intensity exercise may actually decrease food cravings, according to new research published in the International Journal of Obesity.
2. Get enough rest – Sleep is vital to curbing your refined sugar and carbohydrate addiction. Poor sleep has been linked to increased cravings for both salty and sweet foods, as the brain seeks to find pleasure or reward that it lacked from getting enough sleep.
3. Eat more plant protein in every meal – Eating too much meat can cause the body to become acidic, but if you add healthy plant proteins to every meal, you will be less likely to want to eat sugar, as the protein keeps your insulin levels more even, for a longer period of time.
4. Detox – Sometimes sugar addictions can be greatly curbed simply by detoxing the body. When our gut flora is out of balance or candida is running rampant in the body, we can try to stop eating sugar all day long, and it will be a futile exercise. A simple detox can help reset our appetites, and make sugar less appealing. Use activated charcoal, drink some warm lemon water every morning, or practice the yogic master cleanse to really get a good clean-out.
5. Read food labels – It’s easy enough to be tempted by a donut or a piece of cake. These are obviously going to have sugar in them, but do you really want to eat enough sugar in your morning oatmeal or your green juice, which are seemingly healthy foods? You have to pay attention to food labels, and avoid brands that consistently put sugar as the first ingredient in their food.
Companies also hide sugar content in food labels by calling it other names: glucose, fructose, sucrose (especially high fructose corn syrup), maltodextrin, palm sugar, muscovado, etc. Manufacturers will also call sugar ‘syrup’ like malt syrup, oat syrup, rice brain syrup, agave syrup, etc.
Even when sugar isn’t the first thing listed on the label, you have to keep reading, because food manufacturers may hide the sugar content again by listing it in multiple areas. For instance, corn syrup, fructose syrup and agave might all be in the same product.
Also, don’t be fooled by sugars that are meant to be healthier than regular table sugar. Just because a product contains cane sugar, raw sugar, honey, coconut sugar, or birch syrup doesn’t mean it isn’t going to spike your glucose levels and cause the same neurochemical breakdown.
6. The best thing to do is eat whole, natural foods – Leafy greens, whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, and other unprocessed foods. The sugar content in these is always mitigated by fiber, and if you do consume sugar, it won’t be in levels that the body cannot easily process, since they are not exaggerated on purpose, as the food industry does, to cause you to be addicted to their products.
Just taking a few of these steps can help to reduce your sugar cravings, and the less sugar you eat, the less you’ll want it. You can overcome a sugar addiction!