Dear readers, this week’s column features the eighth of the top 10 nutrition questions I get asked. This week we’re going to explore how to beat a sugar addiction.
Is sugar really addictive?
We know from rat studies that sugar is more addictive than even cocaine. An inability to stop consuming sugar is not a lack of self-control. As such, we really need to stop shaming people who can’t seem to do it without professional help. In fact, removing any shame or guilt we may feel from consuming it can help us begin to work through the problem instead of getting caught up in an emotional response that only fuels the addiction.
Sugar is like most addictive substances: the more we get the more we want. Food companies know this and add sugar to almost all processed foods for this reason: to sell more. In fact, they measure exactly how much sugar, salt, and fat is needed to make you want to eat the most. it’s called the point of happiness. Food is therefore created to make us addicted! To better understand this and what is the impact of sugar on the body, there is an excellent documentary called The secrets of sugar it’s to do !
Which sugars are bad?
Often people think that raw sugar, honey, agave, or organic sugar are healthier choices because they are more of a “whole” food. Many nutrition gurus teach that whole foods are superior in nutrient profile – and so they are. However, that’s not the whole story with sugar. The reason sugar is so bad for us isn’t just because it lacks nutrients or equals empty calories. It’s not just because it’s processed. Why sugar is so detrimental to our health and so closely linked to addiction is complex. Let’s take a closer look.
Sugar damages our metabolism:
Even the sugars listed above – and lead to insulin resistance. Any sugar that raises blood sugar signals insulin, and insulin is like a loose trigger lucky shooter in the bloodstream. We are only just beginning to discover the wide range of ailments for which it is responsible. Browse over 2,500 scientific papers published in a Google Scholar search on insulin-related disease processes.
Sugar damages our brain:
In this Fifth estate documentary on sugar, researchers expose how a high-sugar diet for just a few weeks causes brain damage in healthy rats and markers of diabetes in healthy humans. Researchers are now calling Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes. Studies tie it closely to a high glycemic index (sugar) diet.
Sugar lowers our pain threshold:
“Abnormal insulin signaling and dysregulation of blood sugar (even in the absence of detectable diabetes) may even account for a portion of chronic pain sufferers. Studies have shown that increased blood sugar leads to reduced pain threshold. This means that body tissues can become hyper-sensitized. But, such sensitization can even occur with transient elevations in blood sugar and a fasting level that is still normal. It has also been shown that elevated insulin, by itself, even in the absence of abnormalities on any other test, lowers pain thresholds. (Full article and references) A lowered pain threshold means people may need more prescription painkillers. Enter Oxycodone addiction.
Sugar causes inflammation:
Inflammatory processes in the body are linked to a healthy gut biome. The gut biome is not healthy in the presence of an abundance of sugars and starches (the body turns them into sugars). When the gut biome is out of balance, we need sugars and starches to feed the “bad” gut bacteria (a yeast called candida). When this happens, it becomes very difficult to function and make rational decisions about sugars/carbs. The result is a body filled with inflammation and pain, fatigue, depression, mental health issues and anxiety. These often become chronic and then prescriptions are written for you guessed it: anxiolytics or analgesics. Benzo and oxy.
Excess sugar consumption can lead to deficiencies:
Because sugar is so addictive, we can start consuming too much of it. We need it more and more to feel the dopamine surge. That’s when it becomes an addiction. At this point, we are looking for more than just nutrient-dense food, and that can lead to deficiencies, because it requires so many nutrients to be metabolically processed, but doesn’t return any nutrients.
Excess sugar creates a craving for more sugar:
Say what? Think about it and you will see that it is true. When we have consumed nutrient-deficient sugars for too long, our bodies are not metabolically flexible. They can’t remember how to get energy from anything other than glucose (sugar) and we crave it badly or feel like we have no energy at all. The only way to feel energized immediately is to consume a lot more sugar. Over time however, hyperglycemia is followed by an increasingly immediate crash or need to sleep. My nephew calls it rice coma because too much rice will bring it! If you’ve ever been through this, you know how impossible it is to escape this cycle once it has started.
So how do you break the addiction?
Unfortunately, the only way to break the cycle of sugar and carb addiction is to increase metabolic flexibility by training your body to use fat for energy (a ketogenic diet) and by fasting regularly in the absence of of any glucose long enough to enter a ketogenic state. These help the body “remember” how to burn fat for fuel so the body can create energy without needing more sugar. We are then freed from feeling that horrible lack of willpower around sweets.
While it’s safe to use a ketogenic diet to overcome a sugar addiction, it’s best done with professional guidance. Why? Because keto diets are really misunderstood. I have read vast amounts of bad keto information online. I think it would be very difficult to gain momentum without sound advice. Many keto diets rely heavily on processed and inflammatory foods as their staple foods. I feel like if I change my diet, I want it to optimize my health, not just to help me lose weight or stop cravings. Ideal body weight is a side effect of good health, not the end goal. What good is losing weight and increasing inflammation and pain in the body? This is not what everyone wants when they make the effort to change their diet!
I offer a “Crash Course Keto” program for clients wishing to understand and begin a ketogenic diet in 30 days. It’s a dollar a day and it comes with a list of safe sugar substitutes as well as a list of keto-friendly sweet recipes, so there’s no need for cheat days. It also comes with printable downloads and online support for any questions. For more information, readers can email me and I will send all the information.
If customers want to study a keto diet to improve type 2 diabetes, my recommendation is to go to dietdoctor.com. There is no more informative and trustworthy site and it has information to help you every step of the way, with user support forums.
I hope this is helpful. As always, if you have your own nutrition-related question, email me at [email protected] If you want to read more articles like this, you can find me at askthenutritionist.substack.com.