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You go inside the supermarket to buy your usual groceries and find shelf upon shelf of your favorite foods and drinks. Chances are, these are loaded with sugar—a popular addition to a wide variety of foods, from cakes and candies to bread and even salad dressings.
There has been a steady rise in the consumption of sugar over the past few decades, leading to a sugar addiction epidemic. With the advent of refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, there is a bigger risk of sugar addiction and its associated chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and increased fatigue.
The Many Faces of Sugar
The American Heart Association classifies sugars into two types: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. As implied, naturally occurring sugars can be found naturally in foods, such as fructose and lactose.
Added sugars are defined as any natural sugar like honey or brown sugar or sweeteners that are added to food and drinks during processing or preparation. There are also major and hidden sources of added sugars often present in meals, from low-fat yogurt and cereal for breakfast to sugary drinks like juices and sports drinks.
Added sugars go by many names, such as:
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Sorghum syrup
- Sugar molecules (dextrose, glucose, maltose)
The Different Facets of Sugar Addiction
Sugar can be addictive, and this holds real dangers. Refined sugars have the capacity to rewire the human brain, according to a study by Wiss et.al.
Our brains are programmed to eat more food to prepare for tough times, and sugar provides the body with a quick fix and a short burst of energy. This could lead people to depend on it, as they have come to enjoy and rely on the dopamine that sugar releases.
With the onset of processed foods, the brain’s reward centers are altered such that our decision-making processes are impaired in ways which, according to the proponents of the study, may be compared with the effects of drug abuse.
One clear sign of sugar addiction is the consumption of large amounts of sugary foods and beverages. Sugar addiction is also been linked to emotional eating, where sugar is seen as providing a quick fix after a stressful situation.
Those who turn to sugar for some emotional relief very likely experience weight gain and loss of focus. Sugar addiction is also associated with binge eating, where food is used as a support system and anxiety. This in turn may lead to eating disorders.
How Much is Too Much?
Sugar has long been a part of American history. Around 300 years ago, only a select few had access to this product when sugar was considered a luxurious commodity. This resulted in an average consumption of around 6 lbs. of sugar in a year. However, sugar since then became a ubiquitous product and important part of our economy in the 21st century.
According to the Diabetes Council, the United States has the world’s highest average daily sugar consumption per person, with 126.40 grams per person.
That’s around 25.28 teaspoons worth, which is 11.98 teaspoons more than what the US government recommends. According to the University of Florida, that translates to a whopping 130 lbs. or around 26 bags of sugar of sugar per year.
The World Health Organization meanwhile suggests a recommended daily intake of 50 grams for an individual with normal weight. The University of California San Francisco also recommends that sugar intake be limited to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men.
The Effects of Sugar Addiction
Consuming sugar makes you crave for even more sugar, potentially keeping you in an unhealthy loop. While recommended daily intake values are present, it’s always easy to go beyond these guidelines. This has numerous consequences to your health, such as suppressing the immune system and accelerating the aging process.
Sugar addiction has already been linked to a string of chronic diseases, including obesity, inflammation, and diabetes. It has also been linked to depression, a reduced quality of life, and even premature death.
Curbing Your Cravings
When taken in small amounts, sugar can do wonders to your food. However, if consumed excessively, it can lead to serious and even life-threatening outcomes.
There are several ways to curb your cravings and help you get back on your feet. Specifically, there are steps you can take to cut down on your sugar consumption, as suggested by the American Heart Association. It’s easier than you think!
Go for a walk.
Aside from being linked to having better health, walking can help curb your craving for sweets. In fact, a 15-minute walk can help reduce your consumption of sugary snacks. That and you’ll be putting a good distance between you and that snack that you’re craving.
Eat a filling meal.
Eating high-protein foods is one way to curb your cravings. The stomach digests high-protein food slowly which makes you feel fuller for longer. Eggs, beans, and nuts are good sources of protein, along with lean meat and soy products.
Ditch soda and alcohol and go for water.
Soda can have as much as 65-69 grams of sugar while sweetened tea drinks can contain up to 50 grams of sugar. If you’re still craving for something sweet, go for natural fruit juices or diet drinks.
Eat more fruits.
Make it a point to include more fresh fruits in your diet. Dried fruits are also a good alternative.
Check food and drink labels.
Practice reading the labels and look for added sugars. Then choose food and beverage options with the lowest amount of added sugars.
Go for smaller servings.
This applies to baking and cooking. Try cutting a recipe’s requirements for sugar and other sweeteners in half.
Addressing Sugar Addiction
While handling sugar addiction can be taxing, there are many ways to beat it. Small manageable steps such as exercising and choosing healthier alternatives are a good place to start.
Go for healthy alternatives.
Modifying your diet is one of the first steps you need to take to address sugar addiction. Aside from cutting down on your sugar consumption, being mindful and choosing healthier alternatives can contribute to retraining your brain and your taste buds.
Go for whole food alternatives like vegetables, legumes, and fruits instead of reaching out for sugar-laden snacks the next time you’re at the supermarket.
Re-stock your pantry.
This means cleaning out your pantry to get rid of any possible temptations that might cause you to slip back into your old eating habits. Chuck your sweets and other sugar-laden snacks in the bin. Make way for healthier food alternatives at your own home to give you more opportunities to succeed in your fight against sugar addiction.
Talk to a treatment specialist.
If you think you or someone you know needs professional help in beating sugar addiction, you can always talk to your trusted healthcare provider or treatment specialists to know more about your options. Therapists can be of help when it comes to working on behavior modifications, especially when it comes to food.