Have you ever uttered the words, “This is so addicting!” when talking about a highly processed or sugary food? I mean, who can eat just one yummy treat at a time? This sentiment may not be far from the truth. There is mounting evidence to show that sugary and highly processed foods may truly be addicting. First, we’ll talk about what sugar is, then dive into some of the research surrounding food addiction, and finally discuss some of the health implications of eating too much sugar. Let’s get started!
What is sugar?
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, usually made up of just one or two molecules, which is why we call it a simple carbohydrate. There are different types of sugar molecules, but sucrose is the one that we most commonly refer to as table sugar. It is a disaccharide, meaning that it has two molecules – one of fructose and one of glucose. Simple carbs are easy to digest, and send immediate bursts of glucose (energy) into the bloodstream. This is certainly beneficial in many situations. Athletes, for example, need an immediate source of energy to ensure peak performance. In fact, we could all benefit from a quick burst of energy from time to time, which goes to show that no foods, including sugars are “bad” foods. But sometimes, after having a spike in blood sugar, it then drops, leaving you craving more of it afterwards. That brings us to our next point.
Can sugar really be addicting?
Aside from spikes and drops in blood sugar associated with eating sweets, there is a possibility that sugar acts in similar ways to our brain as addictive drugs. When eating sugar, dopamine and opioids are released, which feel really good to the brain. The brain responds to these natural rewards, and as a result craves more of the substance stimulating the reward. There is also evidence that shows that ultra-processed foods, the foods really high in both carbs and fat, trigger these pathways as well. For more information on the subject, check out this podcast with UofM’s Dr. Gearhart, who studies food addiction!
Health Implications of Sugar
Whether a person is really addicted to sugar or not, it is still important to monitor sugar intake due to its health implications. However, it’s important to note as well the idea of “all things in moderation.” If you like something, you should eat it! But being cognisant of your diet doesn’t hurt. Research shows that increased sugar intake can lead to symptoms like inflammation, higher blood pressure, and weight gain, which in turn can contribute to chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or fatty liver disease. To mitigate these issues, it is important to monitor your diet, get plenty of exercise throughout the day, and remember that whole, unprocessed foods are always a safe bet!