RODALE NEWS, Lenox, MA—Are you addicted to sugar?
When I ask that question, most people attending my weight-management lectures raise their hand. Addiction to sugar is stronger for some people than others, but the truth is sugar is a powerfully addictive substance. If you’ve overindulged in cookies, candy, cake, or ice cream—and who hasn't, at some point—you know its seductive pull. Food manufacturers bank on it when they load sugar into soft drinks, breakfast cereal, soups, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, energy bars, and even catsup. As a result, most of us develop a strong craving for sweets, without even realizing how much sugar we consume on a daily basis.
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THE DETAILS: Addiction to sugar is probably more common than you think. Americans consume an average of 20 to 30 teaspoons (about ½ cup!) daily of this substance, which has been linked to a variety of health problems, including obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), attention and memory problems, hyperactivity, anxiety, and depression. Every month a new study comes out adding to the list of dangers posed by consuming sugar and its cousins, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, and dextrose. Despite the risks, we continue to eat sugar because it is so addictive.
In fact, sugar meets all the criteria for an addictive substance:
• It stimulates release of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, in a manner similar to alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs of abuse.
• People eat it compulsively, despite negative consequences and the intention to stop.
• With continued use, people develop a tolerance to its effects.
• Heavy sugar consumers have trouble functioning without it.
• When consumption ceases, withdrawal symptoms occur.
WHAT IT MEANS: Breaking free from a dependency on sugar is easier said than done. Because the roots of sugar addiction are both physical and emotional, you need a combination of physical and psychological approaches. The less you eat sugar, the less you will crave it. If you get withdrawal symptoms, know they will only last a few days and then you’ll feel more balanced and energetic than ever.