A few months ago, Neely Stasik was walking down the street in Chicago when she met some friends she hadn’t seen in years. They were stunned to know: Will she still consume the same crazy amount of sugar she did when she was in college?
“In my 20s and 30s, I always ate candy,” Stasik recalls. “But I don’t know it so clearly.”
Stasik, 43, says her fondness for jelly beans in her bag probably started with boredom, but one thing is for sure: She loves the way candy gives her. “I was really tall for about two seconds,” she said. “It’s not about the taste – I don’t think the jelly beans are really good. I just ate sugar to see how my body reacted to it. “
Can we be addicted to sugar?
For women who agree with Stasik’s story, sugar addiction can feel very real. However, in the scientific world, it is more complicated.
Many studies support the hypothesis that sugar addiction is, in fact, real because processed/sugar foods have the ability to hijack pleasure centers in the brain, like nicotine or even drugs like opioids. One study found that rats even prefer a bolder sweet taste to cocaine. This fact is less surprising when you consider that certain drugs and sugar both trigger the brain to release dopamine (the chemical that makes you feel good) and that you want more of that feeling. Interestingly, women may be more susceptible to sugar addiction than men: A 2021 study found that female rats were more susceptible to the addictive properties of sugar than male rats.
In the past, researchers have argued that sugar is not addictive because the body does not become physically dependent on sugar the way it is dependent on drugs such as opiates. Another study found that sugar dependence is a behavioral condition in which certain emotions, meals or times of day drive the consumption – not an addiction.
Ann Hunter, a registered dietitian at UC San Diego Health, notes that the majority of studies on sugar addiction involve animal studies, but there’s no denying that added sugar intake has creeping into our daily diets and many of us may be consuming more sugar. than we think.
“If you sit down to eat an orange, you get an orange,” she said. “When you pour a glass of orange juice, you are probably consuming three or four oranges plus sugar.”
How much is too much?
According to the American Heart Association, adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, more than three times the amount recommended for women (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar). That may sound like a bit much if you’re thinking of putting coffee beans in a cup of coffee, but Hunter says most of the sugar people consume is hidden in everyday beverages and foods, such as cereals, yogurt and pasta sauces.
The dangers of added sugar
Sugar can be uncomfortable, but the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables provide much-needed energy to cells. On the other hand, “added sugar” is when manufacturers add sugar to a product to help extend shelf life and enhance flavor. Studies show that this increase in added sugars over the years has contributed to the obesity epidemic and increased disease. In addition to weight gain, the development of insulin resistance, fatty liver and diabetes are just a few of the serious health conditions associated with excess fructose in packaged foods.
A 15-year study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine also found an association between a diet high in sugar and a higher risk of dying from heart disease.
Handling when withdrawing
For Stasik, the sense of urgency was so hard to let go of until she was in her 30s, when she ditched her car and moved to Chicago. She has to walk everywhere and can’t cope with the sugar “hangover” that comes after eating candy. “I just feel like crap,” she said. Stasik said the first few days without sugar were the worst and left her feeling extremely weak.
Common sugar withdrawal symptoms include headaches, insomnia, and muscle aches. To help deal with the symptoms of a sugar addiction, Hunter suggests adding protein and fiber to your meals to help keep blood sugar steady so you’re less likely to reach for that chocolate bar.
Unfortunately, according to Hunter, replacing sugar with a sugar substitute is not a viable solution because studies show that fake sugar can trick your brain into eating more. “[Sugar substitutes] Hunter said.
Break the sugar cycle
To break your sugar addiction, the first thing you should do is learn more about the food you’re eating. “Go down to the ingredient label and see how much sugar is added in it,” says Hunter. Note: Just because you don’t see the word sugar in the list doesn’t mean it’s not in there. Sugar can go by many names, including maltodextrin, fructose, and sucrose.
Next, establishing a diet rich in healthy fats, protein, and fiber can help curb cravings. Hunter says the following snack ideas are good options that will meet your needs:
1) Vegetable sticks and hummus
2) Cheese Sticks With Tomato, Avocado and Everything But Bagel Seasoning
3) Fried sweet potato (grilled with olive oil) with guacamole and pumpkin seeds
Hunter also says it’s beneficial to sit with your feelings before giving in to sugar. “Identify the source of cravings and ask, ‘Am I really hungry? Is this an emotion or a reward after a long day? ‘ Sit with that and try to identify what is making you feel that way,” she says.
According to Hunter, removing yourself from the environment and going for a walk can also help break the cycle. This tactic worked for Stasik when she started walking Rover’s dog.
“After a week of no sugar, I said, ‘Wow, I can go faster,’” she said. “And this is why I shouldn’t eat sugar anymore.” Well, except after a super busy day Rover. Then maybe a pea or two is fine.
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