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    Sugar Addiction: Is it Really as Addictive as Cocaine?

    Bowl of sugar cubes with a spoon

    Sugar has become the “hot new topic” in medical news. You can find books written on the troubles it causes, and movies devoted to how the food industry is leading us into obesity. There's even television shows focusing on obese contestants . . . many of whom struggle with what they define as sugar addiction. But is it really possible to become addicted to sugar?

    Sugar Addiction: Fact or Fiction


    No one can deny that sugar consumption has increased over the years. In the 1800's the average person consumed approximately 18 pounds of sugar each year. Sugar was considered to be a luxury, and was often called “White Gold” because it was such a profitable commodity.

    Today, it's estimated that the average American consumes over 150 pounds each year! Let that number sink in a bit. Consuming 150 pounds of sugar each year is like eating your weight . . . give or take a few pounds!

    An overflowing cup of sugar

    Sugar is Big Business

    The majority of our sugar consumption is within the foods we eat. Soda, candy, cakes and pastries are all commonly thought of as being sugary treats.

    But in recent years, the food industry learned that adding additional sugar to other foods, such as ketchup, salad dressings, and even pickles, will make the average person crave even more sugar.

    To make matters worse, there's 257 different names for sugar! Making it increasingly difficult to determine if its an added ingredient to your food.

    We're Programmed to Eat Sugar

    When we eat sugar, our hunter-gatherer instinctive behavior is triggered. This behavior was a survival mechanism that millions of years ago helped our early ancestors survive a famine. Simply put, our brains are hard-wired for the sweet taste of sugar.

    What once kept our ancestors alive, is now causing huge health issues in today's world. Our food supply has changed, but unfortunately, our biology hasn't caught up yet with modern times.

    Addiction in red standing out among other words

    Is Sugar Addictive?

    Anybody who's ever struggled with a sweet tooth would likely answer that question without thinking twice. Long before sugar addiction was the latest hot topic in the world of health and nutrition, there's been people struggling to walk away from the sweet substance.

    But in recent years, study after study have proven that sugars, not only have destructive characteristics, but are also extremely addictive. 

    What The Study's Tell Us

    Dr. Serge H. Ahmed asked the question, “Is Sugar as Addictive as Cocaine?” He published his findings in the Journal of Food and Addiction in 2009. What he found was that sugar was eight times as addictive as cocaine. EIGHT TIMES!!

    In another study, Dr. David Ludwig led a group at Harvard where he proved that foods which were high in sugar triggered a region in the brain (nucleus accumbens) where addictions begin.  

    Any addiction – alcohol, heroin, gambling, nicotine, as well as sugar begins in the nucleus accumbens, or commonly called the brain's pleasure center. When stimulated, the brain's pleasure center makes us feel good by releasing a powerful surge of dopamine. Since we want to continue to feel good, we continue the behavior (eating sugar). 

    Our Brain Even Reacts to an Image

    There have been other studies done that use only pictures of junk and processed foods. Using brain imaging, researchers watch the brain “light up” as if we were using heroin.

    Our bodies are so efficient, that even the sight of something sweet, triggers a reaction. And the food industry is well aware of the response that sugar has on our brain.

    In fact, they spend millions of dollars creating foods that are so appealing that, regardless of how much we eat, we never feel as though we can eat enough.

    Pile of white sugar on the floor with a half-filled scoop

    The Sugar Affect

    By consuming large amounts of sugar, over time, our dopamine receptors no longer respond like they once did. Like any addiction, it becomes necessary to increase the quantity of sugar consumed to attain the same pleasurable state.

    In addictive language, we have built a tolerance to the substance.

    When Too Much Sugar is Too Much

    Consuming too much sugar can be harmful to the body. It's true that too much sugar will result in obesity, but it'll also promote disease and inflamation. In addition, it'll depress the body's immune system, by reducing the ability of the white blood cells to kill bacteria.

    To make matters worse, sugar's calories are different than other calories. Not only does our mind encourage us to eat more sugar, but our body is driven to convert the added calories to lethal belly fat. Shattering the myth that all calories are created equal!

    Dr. Mark Hyman talks about the equality of calories this way: "Some calories are addictive, others healing, some fattening, and some metabolism-boosting."