While we may joke about being a chocoholic or having a sweet tooth, the unpalatable truth is that sugar is addictive.
It makes sense that evolution has primed us to enjoy sweet food – glucose is one of the essential substances of the body, providing energy for our brains and bodies.
When we do something pleasurable, like eating something sweet, our brains release dopamine, the reward chemical. Sugary food and drinks activate this reward system, with studies on rats showing many of the same reactions to sugar as to drugs of addiction like cocaine. The mesolimbic dopamine system is activated and the brain floods with dopamine.
Another aspect of addiction is needing more and more of a substance to experience the same hit. This is called ‘tolerance’ and is also experienced by drug addicts and alcoholics. Sugar is no exception, with studies showing those with pre-diabetic insulin resistance producing less dopamine in response to sugar than those without the condition.
Just like quitting coffee or smoking, suddenly reducing our sugar intake can also cause symptoms of withdrawal, from tremors and shivers to headaches. The good news is that there are some things you can do to ease the process for yourself and your family.
The evidence is clear that sugar has addictive qualities. You wouldn’t give your kids hard drugs, alcohol or cigarettes – so why give them unsafe amounts of added sugar?