Can you walk past a sweet shop without becoming shaky and breaking into a cold, clammy sweat? Is the only cure to enter the shop and buy a bar of chocolate and immediately gobble it up! A sugar addict is a condition that may not have been recognised twenty or thirty years ago, but which is certainly gaining more attention in today’s world of ever-increasing convenience and sugary foods.
Sugar is essential to the proper function of the body. Glucose in particular is important to the brain, as it provides the only source of fuel to its one hundred billion nerve cells. But it is the ready availability of refined sugar and its use as a mood-booster to give an instant ‘lift’ that is prompting some health experts to consider sugar addiction. One senior Dutch health official has even described sugar as “the most dangerous drug of the times” and has called for health warnings to be carried on sweets and soft drinks packaging. Research has shown that sugar can affect the same ‘feel good’ brain hormones as street drugs like cocaine, and that sugar withdrawal may create the same symptoms as withdrawal from nicotine, morphine and alcohol.
Eating sugar prompts the body to release the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin into the blood stream. However, this pleasant sugar rush triggers an increase in insulin as the body strives to bring blood glucose levels back to normal, which has the knock-on effect of causing a ‘sugar crash’ and makes many crave yet more sugar, leading to binge eating. This cycle of ‘surge’ followed by ‘crash’ is even more pronounced when the sugar comes from foods rich in simple sugars, like chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks. They are absorbed much more quickly into the blood stream, causing a faster and more frequent cycle. Eating more complex sugars or carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread, cereal and pasta, or simple carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables and dairy products which also contain fibre and protein, slows down the process. According to the NHS, added-sugars shouldn’t make up more than 10% of the energy we get from food and drink each day, which is about 70g for men and 50g for women. By cutting down the amount of sugar we consume each day, we can reduce the risk of becoming addicts. Always remember to check food labels, and bear in mind that food products containing more than 15% sugar are considered high in sugar and low if they have less than 5g per 100g.