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Sugar is a hot topic these days; the new nutrient/food that society loves to hate. Not saying that it is not somewhat justified – as more and more health organizations and professionals are calling for a large reduction of added sugar in the diet – but demonizing one specific food as the root of all problems tends to do more harm than good. (Here me out before you demonize me).

Over the past several decades society has in fact developed a ‘sweet tooth’, but is it because it’s a powerful addictive substance, or are there other factors potentially at play?

Why All the Sugar?

Sugars are often added to processed foods to improve their taste, colour, texture and shelf-life. Sugar comes in many forms: white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup and corn sweeteners.

Keep in mind that added sugars are different from natural sugars. Some foods that naturally contain sugar, such as fruit and milk, are an important part of a healthy diet, because they also contain important nutrients.

Excess consumption of added sugar is associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer, and cavities. Whoa – scary, right? We should avoid it at all costs, right? It’s not quite that simple.

Many things in life are dangerous to consume in excess – even water. It is typically the dose that makes the poison. Small amounts of added sugars are not necessarily harmful. Society has changed in the past few decades – we have access to an overabundance of refined carbohydrates and sugars, we are typically busier and more stressed than in the past, and we have less time for physical activity. It is these factors, plus a multitude of others, that have contributed to the rise in lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Not just one specific food that is the cause of it all.

That being said, our lifestyle and environments tend to be overloaded with an abundance of high sugar foods, and thus we tend to consume too much. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and World Health Organization recommends less than 5% and a maximum of 10% of your daily calories to come from added sugar. The average 2,000 calorie-per-day diet contains 12 teaspoons of added sugars (ideally you would want it to contain no more than 6). One can of pop contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar! Can you see how we have gotten into trouble over the years with overconsuming excess sugar and calories, and thus leading to weight gain?

Sugar – An Addiction?

The evidence is mixed. Most studies on sugar and addiction are in animal models (should be taken with a grain of salt), but even these are mixed. A recent review of the evidence on sugar and addiction found limited evidence for sugar itself being an addiction[i].

The bottom line is – highly palatable (aka tastes really good!) food tends to be an addiction (for some people, depending on a number of factors), not quite so much sugar itself.1, [ii

Research also shows that deprivation can lead to overconsumption. We all know that when people tend to go on a ‘diet’, they tend to go ‘all or nothing’, and believe they have to completely eliminate foods that they enjoy. This can end up backfiring and lead to binging on the food that you’re giving up (which is commonly sugary foods).

Also, again sugar is highly palatable, which means it can light up the pleasure centers of the brain when consumed (as can other activities, such as playing with puppies). It is only natural that when we’re feeling low for whatever reason – sad, tired, bored, angry, etc., we can tend to turn to highly palatable foods to make us feel better (and again, because they’re easily accessible).

So, we’ve identified that sugary foods are delicious and easy to access, therefore we tend to overeat them. However, so are other types of foods, particularly those high in fat that may not necessarily high in sugar (e.g., deep fried foods such as fries and chips). Again, it is highly palatable food itself that can be an addiction for some.

Check back for part 2 on November 16 to find out actionable tips for cutting sugar cravings.

Felicia Newell
About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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Download her free meal planning starter kit here: bit.ly/MealPlanStartKit