There comes a point where, for one reason or another, you decide that enough’s enough and you’re ready to finally start taking control of your diet. Little do you know that your body has formed a strong addiction to processed foods over the years.
The main ingredient causing food addiction? Sugar.
But it’s not your fault…
Unfortunately for many of us, myself included, the system doesn’t always have our best interests at heart. We were raised in societies where fast food and processed snacks are a norm – but in reality, they are essentially poison to our bodies.
Let’s dive deeper into understanding how sugar came to be, how it affects your body, and what you can do to overcome your cravings.
Table of Contents
What is "Sugar"?
Sugar is a general term used to describe a molecular structure also known as carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are naturally occurring in all plants, such as fruits and vegetables, in the forms of glucose, fructose, and sucrose.
Sugar is also one of the main sources of energy for your body since sugar molecules are energy-dense, easily transported throughout your body, and easy for your system to digest.
Where Does Sugar Come From?
Sugar comes from plants. All plants, including fruits and vegetables, produce sugars through photosynthesis, a natural process that turns sunlight into energy. The sugars that plants produce are stored in the roots, leaves, seeds, or fruit of the plant. The scientific names for the sugars produced by plants is glucose and fructose, which can be converted by the plant into sucrose.
How Today's "Sugar" is Made
When it comes to processed sugar – which is an unnatural product of refinement – this can have many names. Glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose and starch are all forms of sugar. So are high fructose corn syrup, honey, raw sugar, and fruit juice.
When you think of sugar, you’re probably thinking of the grainy white substance known as table sugar. Table sugar is made of concentrated and pure sucrose. It is most commonly made from sugarcane and sugar beets, since they yield a high amount of sucrose – hence their name.
In order to make sugar, sugar cane and sugar beets are juiced in order to extract the sucrose which is found in the liquids of the plant. Once the fibre is removed, the juice is sent to an evaporator where the juice is thickened into syrup by boiling off the water. The syrup is then crystallized by boiling again at low pressure, and then spun in a centrifuge in order to get rid of any remaining liquid.
Another type of processed sweetener that is very commonly used in processed foods is corn syrup. Corn syrup is cheaper to make and therefore a substitute for sweetening processed foods in the food industry. Corn syrup is produced from the starch found in corn, which is further refined to produce syrup. The most common type has a fructose-to-glucose ratio similar to table sugar. This syrup has nearly identical, if not worse, affects on our bodies as table sugar.
Processed Sugar Vs. Naturally Occurring Sugars
Most people just call every form of sugar, sugar. But it’s important to understand how our bodies react differently depending on what kind of sugar we are consuming…
The average American consumes around 80 grams of sugar per day (that’s about 25 teaspoons). To naturally consume this much sugar – you would have to chew through about 2 pounds of sugarcane.
Sugar cane is extremely fiber rich when consumed in its whole form – but your body naturally expects fiber to come along with all that sweetness! The fiber in sweet plants such as sugar cane slows the rate at which sugar is released into your system – so basically without the fiber, the sugars are absorbed very quickly.
Unlike added sugar, eating sugar from plants is usually not a health concern. This is because naturally occurring sugars are generally difficult to consume in large amounts in their whole form. Whole foods like fruits are also sweet by nature, packed with nutrients, antioxidants, water, and so many healing properties for the body.
Why extract juice from plants, heavily process it, crystallize it, collect the sugar, and then mix it in with other processed ingredients into what todays society calls “food”? We have nature providing us with ready to eat foods like fruit, perfectly ripened by the sun, with pure water filtered by it’s roots, and minerals and vitamins extracted from the soil… Yet many of us still believe we need processed foods to survive. It’s time we woke up from our sugar commas and realized the truth.
Why is Sugar So Addictive?
Refinement is the Problem
There are many plants that exist in nature that have been refined to create what we now know as “drugs”. Things like dried tobacco leaves, beer from fermented barley, and even the sap from the opium poppy plant have been used for centuries with little to no harm. Although smoking tobacco in any form is of course harmful to your health, it usually takes use over a long period of time for it to truly damage you. Even the opium plant was never a problem in human populations until it was “conceived as a problem” by British colonial policy makers.
Putting Things Into Perspective
In order to make 1 kilogram of cocaine, you would need to harvest around 370 kilograms of coca leaf. The refined substance (cocaine) is over 100 times stronger than the plant in its natural state. Your body could probably handle chewing through 100 grams of coca leaves because the active ingredient is released very slowly into your system. However, when your body takes in that amount of active ingredient instantaneously in the form of cocaine, it’s going to be a shock to your body. No surprise there.
The same goes for sugar – about half the weight of one sugar cane stalk is juice, and 20% of that juice is actual sugar. Therefore, the result of the refinement process is a material that’s around 10 times sweeter than what you originally started with. When you eat sugar cane and other sweet fruits and vegetables in their whole, unrefined and natural state, the sugars are released more slowly into your body due to the fiber, concentration levels, and general composition.
Basically – the closer you remain to the natural state of these plants, the less dangerous and harmful they are. Plant substances only become dangerous to your health and extremely addictive when you extensively refine them.
Our Brains Reward System: Dope
In the past, we didn’t have availability to readily available foods, so our bodies and our genes were adapted to struggle with being undernourished until we found a source of food. Since sugar is one of your main sources of energy, your brain is basically hardwired to seek sugary foods for your survival.
When you consume sugar in any form, your brain produces dopamine. Dopamine is one of the main chemical messengers in your body responsible for triggering the “reward system” in your brain. Your reward system delivers a sense of satisfaction in your mind after accomplishing a task, playing sports, learning something new, engaging in sexual activities, taking drugs, and in this case, consuming sugar.
This happy feeling signals your mind to repeat what you did in order to feel this way again – a primal survival technique.
Before the introduction of processed foods and refined sugars, humans were hunters and gatherers. The way they decided whether a food was edible or not was through taste. When their taste buds found something sweet in nature, the reward system triggered as dopamine released to give them the feeling of accomplishment. This naturally and instinctively signalled them to continue eating this food.
Over the last several hundred years, the way we survive has drastically changed and now it’s become very easy for us to obtain our foods. Unfortunately, much of it is heavily processed, addictive, and causes intense cravings.
The result of refinement, which was previously explained, is a higher concentration of a particular ingredient which will have an amplified effect on your brains reward system. The same way distilled alcohols like tequila get you drunk from a lot less liquid, and cocaine and heroin give you way more of the “feel good” sensations from just a tiny bit of substance – refined sugar will trigger our dopamine receptors more quickly and aggressively than slow released sugar from consuming whole foods.
When you start to over consume sugary foods, your brains becomes overwhelmed with the pleasurable experiences you’re having. Your brain is clever and starts to adapt by creating more receptors for dopamine to handle the surges of dopamine being released into the brain. What happens then is that you need more of these foods to get the same “kick” out of them.
Basically, the more sugar you consume – the more tolerant your brain starts to become. And the higher that tolerance becomes, the more sugar you will need to consume in order to reach the feeling of satisfaction. This vicious cycle continues over time, and many people will unknowingly become hooked on sugary foods.
In contrast – when you consume sugary fruits and high carb vegetables such as potatoes – your body can only eat so much sugar at once. Since these whole foods are filled with other nutrients, water, antioxidants, and fiber along with the sugar, you are getting a good amount of everything your body needs to function optimally instead of just pure sugar.
The Multibillion Dollar Food Industry
The multibillion dollar food industry doesn’t want you to give up sugar – they depend on it and they sneak sugar into everything. They label foods as “low fat” or “free from artificial flavours” to trick you into thinking these sugar filled foods are healthy for you by masking them with these misleading labels.
The food industry also has lots of different fancy names for sugar in the ingredients list to make you feel better about their products while keeping the sugar in. Some of these names include: fructose, golden syrup, ethyl maltol, grape sugar, cane juice, rice syrup, molasses, raw sugar, dextrose, and fruit juice concentrate.
Health Effects of Sugar Overconsumption
On top of increasing your brains dopamine tolerance and creating addiction, you are also causing behavioural problems with the overconsumption of sugars.
Your brain has an area called the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for your cognitive controls – also known as your behaviours. The prefrontal cortex is a key area of your brain involved in decision-making, impulse control and delaying gratification. Researchers state that this part of the brain is the last to mature, and doesn’t fully develop until your 20’s. This explains why children and adolescents have a harder time resisting temptations.
To resist cravings, your body needs to “inhibit” your natural response to indulge. Your body does this through “inhibitory neurons” (a neuron is a nerve cell) which play a role in controlling your behaviour. These neurons are found in the prefrontal cortex – and are like the brain’s brakes and release a chemical known as “GABA”. Research shows that eating high-sugar diets can alter the inhibitory neurons – therefore affecting your behaviours, self control, and ability to make decisions.
Research shows that overconsumption of sugar causes inflammation in the brain (also called neuro-inflammation). This happens in the memory center of your brain know as the hippocampus. It impairs your ability to learn and remember, because the inflammation is causing the brain cells to malfunction.
Constant Feeling of Hunger
Research also shows that people with damage to the hippocampus also report feeling hungry all the time. This is due to the fact that the hippocampus is a critical area of the brain that receives “fullness” signals from the gut. This adds to the viscious cycle of needing more and more.
Obesity & Fatty Liver Disease
Through digestion, sugars and carbs are broken down into glucose, an immediate source of energy, and then released into your blood stream. When your pancreas senses that your blood glucose levels have risen, it will secrete a hormone known as insulin. Insulin travels with glucose through the blood and basically tells your body’s cells to open up and let the glucose in. Once inside, the cells convert glucose into energy or store it to use later.
So when you are over consuming sugar, your body will have excess amounts of glucose being stored in different parts of the bod. If these energy deposits are not used, then fat continues to accumulate – predominantly within fat cells in the liver. This over accumulation of fat causes what is called “fatty liver disease”.
What Happens When You Stop Consuming Sugar?
Studies and research have shown that when someone stops eating processed foods, there are similar effects as when people get off drugs. This includes symptoms such as exhaustion, headaches, brain fog, mood swings, irritably, and even gastrointestinal discomfort.
From personal experience, after doing a sugar cleanse protocol, I woke up the next morning on a cold day sweating with the shakes… This feeling affirmed within my mind how real sugar addiction is and how important it is for us to take back control of our diet and nutrition.
While there are many withdrawal symptoms involved in the process of cutting sugar… There are also so many benefits once you get through all the uncomfortable symptoms!
Some of these benefits include:
- Better sleep due
- Less inflammation in the body
- Clearer skin
- Better mood
- Weight loss
How You Can Start to Overcome Your Cravings
Now that you understand how food addiction works, let’s learn how to fight the cravings and build healthy and lasting habits!
Check out the blog post below for 15 Ways to Overcome Sugar Cravings: