By Su-Nui Escobar, MS, RDN
There is no doubt; eating sugar can make us feel happy as the reward center in our brain lights up in a similar way as it does when consuming cocaine or opiates. Not surprisingly, we now have research showing the addictive properties of sugar. For example, a study conducted at Connecticut College conditioned rats with sugar and in a separate study with cocaine and morphine. Rats showed similar behavior with both substances.
When we eat sugar, a powerful substance gets release in our brain making us feel great. Moreover, as we condition our brains to consume sugar, our tolerance increases and we need more to get the same effect. In fact, our brain learns to release some of the substance in anticipation of getting the sugar which results in abnormal craving behaviors, thus we not only need more sugar but it is also a lot more difficult to control our cravings as we consume more. Furthermore some researchers have found that the sugar withdrawal induces an imbalance in our body similar to the induced by opiates. So, next time you feel a strong craving for sugar, don’t blame it to your lack of will power but try different methods to reduce the cravings.
Since the 1950’s our sugar intake has sky rocketed and we now consume about 13% of our calories from sugar. Many of the added sugars come from sweetened drinks, especially among children and adolescents. According to USDA, our consumption of soft drinks increased by 500% in the past 50 years! Also sugar is now in most processed foods we consume, so it is easy to consume a significant more sugar that we intend to do.
Now that you know how much sugar the average person consumes and why is so addictive, lets talk about how to reduce our intake.
Tips to reduce sugar intake:
There are several methods to help you reduce your sugar intake, choose the one that works best for you and don’t be afraid to try different ones until you find the one that works the best.
- Avoid sugary drinks. Cutting sodas and energy drinks from your life you can save an average of 236 calories per day if you are an adult and 179 calories for children.
- Combine sugar to healthy foods. For example, instead of a chocolate bar eat sliced apples with a touch of nutela. The fiber in the apple will make you feel full faster and the amount of sweets you consume will decrease significantly.
- Learn to cook or make naturally low in sugar desserts. Use fruit based desserts instead of sugar and flour ones. I love cooking peaches in the oven. Many times, they don’t even need sugar to taste great and although fruits naturally contain sugar, the amount is much less. You can also combine fruits with plain yogurt and a just a touch of honey.
- Cook quality over quantity. If you really need sugar choose a fantastic sweet and keep it very small. For example eat a macaroon instead of a large candy bar.
- Make it an experience-If you choose to eat sweets, don’t rush it. Eat slowly, avoid distractions and enjoy, you may get surprise when a small piece satisfies your craving.
- Go cold turkey- Challenge yourself to a 30, 60 or 90 day non-added sugar diet. Cravings tend to decrease over time and you will notice that at the end of the challenge your taste will change and you will need less sugar to satisfy your cravings.