How Sugar Addiction Affects Your Body
We all like sugar and there's no denying that it tastes good. From time to time, we may 'crave' a brownie or a few tangy, chewy sweets, but is there a difference between wanting a quick sugary snack and sugar addiction?
The answer is yes. Sugar addiction is a very real and all too common issue in the modern world. Sugar addiction means a worrying need for sugary drinks and foods in your life and can be harmful to your body. We've been doing some research into sugar addiction and how it affects your body and we've summarised it all here.
In this article, we're going to be looking at what sugar addiction actually is, what added sugar is, why we crave sugar, and how sugar addiction can affect your body. Additionally, we'll take a look at some alternatives to sugary snacks for you to try and look at some sugar alternatives that may be suitable for you.
Let's get started!
What is sugar addiction?
So, what is sugar addiction?
Addiction means not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could become harmful. It involves emotional and psychological dependence, and in this case, that dependence is on sugary foods and drinks.
These days, it is thought that people eat far too much sugar. This is because processed foods have lots of added sugars that many don't know about or consider. Additionally, people enjoy the dopamine release that sugar brings. Some studies have suggested that sugar is as addictive as cocaine.
What is added sugar?
Added sugar covers everything from the sugar that is added into processed foods in many forms, to the sugar that is in fruit juice and honey. The 'added sugar' on labels can be glucose, corn syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, and many, many others. This kind of sugar is commonly referred to as 'free sugar.'
Most added sugar these days comes from sweetened drinks as well as snacks like granola bars. It is a common misconception that sugar only comes from sweets and treats like brownies, cookies, and cakes. It is suggested that you should limit your sugar intake to a maximum of six teaspoons per day.
The idea when reducing the amount of sugar you consume isn't necessarily to stop eating sugar but to reduce the amount of concentrated sugar we take in. In nature, sugar is created surrounded by things that balance it, usually fibre. Even sugar cane is formed in this way. With added sugar, we are continuously adding concentrated doses of sweetness to our foods.
Why do we crave sugar?
One of the reasons we become addicted to sugar, and a symptom of it, is sugar cravings. A sugar craving is feeling the need for a hit of the dopamine release you get when you consume sugar, but what actually causes them?
We've gathered a list of what causes sugar cravings below and have summarised why this happens. Check it out now.
In the modern world, where many foods are processed and contain added sugar, we're almost trained to want sugar. We add sweetness to everything we eat and get so used to the dopamine hit that we feel like we need to keep coming back for more. This conditioning is a major cause of cravings in many people.
Adding artificial sweeteners to our hot drinks and 'low fat' products may actually cause an increased desire for sugary products. Sugar alternatives tend to be a lot sweeter than sugar which can change your taste preferences and make you crave more sweet tastes in your life. Though sugar alternatives like this can be good for weight loss and your health, it is best not to overuse them.
Stress is a major cause of sugar cravings. Indeed, when we're stressed we're more likely to reach for sugary foods as the stress hormone, cortisol, has been linked to sugar cravings.
Lack of sleep
A lack of sleep or lack of quality sleep has been known to cause people to reach for sugary snacks. This is because we need an energy hit. Sugary foods give us this quick boost, though they can cause a crash later.
Lack of sleep has also been linked to increased consumption of starchy and salty foods too which is why it is best to get a decent amount of sleep.
Though it is considered by some to be a cultural phenomenon, there is some evidence to suggest that people who menstruate crave a sugary hit, like chocolate, during certain times in their menstrual cycle. There isn't a huge amount of scientific evidence to link the two which is why it is considered another form of conditioning to want chocolate during that time.
How do sugar addiction and excessive sugar consumption affect your body?
Sugar addiction leads to excess sugar consumption which leads to too much in your body. The effects of having too much sugar in your body have been well-documented and include a whole variety of issues. We have listed a number of them below for you to peruse.
It affects your brain function
Too much sugar can have a positive effect on your brain. It offers a surge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, making you feel great, but this effect can lead to cravings and eventual sugar addiction. Whole foods do not offer this feeling which is why people turn to sugary foods.
Sugar can affect your mood
The quick bursts of energy that sugar offers you can make you feel jittery when sugar consumption is often and in excess. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and worry. Additionally, high sugar intake has been linked to a greater risk of depression in adults.
It can rot your teeth
We have been being told this since we were kids but it is very true! Sugar rots your teeth. The bacteria left behind in your mouth after you eat sugary foods and drink sugary drinks can lead to cavities in your teeth, leading to poor oral hygiene.
Sugar affects your joints
Excess sugar consumption can lead to inflammation in your joints which can increase the risk of developing arthritis, a chronic and painful condition.
It ages your skin
And the inflammation doesn't just stop there. The same inflammation that causes pain in your joints can also cause your skin to age much faster, leading to wrinkles and saggy skin.
Sugar can have an impact on liver function
Fructose, highly used in processed foods, is broken down in the liver into fat. This causes a build-up of fat in the liver which can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It can also lead to scarring of the liver which can lead to cirrhosis.
Excess sugar affects your heart
The consumption of excess sugar due to sugar addiction can lead to an excess of insulin secretion. This can cause damage to the arteries. It causes the walls to grow inflamed, thicker, and stiffer, causing stress on the heart. This stress can lead to heart disease, heart failure, and a heart attack.
Additionally, eating less sugar has been linked to a decrease in blood pressure which can help protect you against heart problems and poor heart health.
Sugar addiction harms your pancreas
Excessive sugar intake causes the release of insulin but the release of too much insulin can cause issues with the pancreas. This means that the pancreas becomes overworked and breaks down, causing less insulin to be released and blood sugar levels to increase. This can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Excessive sugar intake affects your kidneys
Eating too much sugar can cause kidney damage, with sugar being released in urine. Diabetes can also lead to the kidneys not being able to filter waste properly which is their main function in the body.
Excessive amounts of sugar can lead to weight gain
Weight gain is common among those who are eating sugar in excess. This is because you're taking in too many calories and not burning them off. Additionally, sugar can inflame fat cells to which causes them to release a chemical that increases weight gain.
How to break the addiction to sugary foods
Now we're aware of how sugar addiction can harm the body, you may be wondering how you can break your addiction to sugary foods. If you're a sugar addict or get frequent cravings for sweet food, there are a number of ways that you can break your sugar addiction. We've listed them below for you to peruse.
Keep sweet stuff out of reach
Out of sight out of mind, right?
Keeping sweet food out of reach can help you kick the sugar habit. Quitting cold turkey works for many people and can help you to stop binge eating sugary snacks. By removing all of the temptations from your space, you're helping to break the cycle and stop your food craving in its wake.
Sweeten your own foods
By starting off with all unsweetened foods and sweetening them yourself, you're taking back control. If you've become addicted to the sweet taste of sugar, you may find it difficult to stop needing that sweetness in your life, but by adding your own sweetness, you can keep control of it.
Many people are caught out by hidden sweeteners in processed foods, like high fructose corn syrup, and so taking control and choosing your own sweeteners and the amount you consume is an easy way to control the cravings.
Watch out for those hidden sugars
Like we mentioned above, it is usually the hidden sugars that we don't know about which cause these problems. Additions like high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, sugar cane, brown sugar, and glucose tend to be the main culprits in sugar-rich foods, and they're not the sugars people will be looking out for.
Learning which ingredients are actually even more added sweetness can help you to avoid consuming too much added sugar and can help to break your addiction to sugar.
This may seem like a strange addition to this list but eating breakfast is one of the best ways to keep food cravings at bay. Having a wholesome, nourishing, and healthy breakfast helps you to feel fuller and can help to calm your need for sugar.
How to curb sugar cravings
If you've decided to quit sugar cold turkey, or you're just concerned about the amount of sugar you're eating and you don't want it to become an addiction, you may be wondering how to curb sugar cravings. Well, we've been taking a look at a few ways you can do this.
Below are a few ways you can curb those sugar cravings, whether, during the 3 pm slump or to avoid weight gain, these tips should help you out!
Only have small amounts of sugar
Limiting the amount of sugar you eat is an easy way to stop sugar cravings. By limiting your intake, you're learning to not need as much sugar and teaching yourself to survive without it. It should also help with your taste preferences, helping you to not need to sweeten things as much.
Make sure you understand nutritional labels and learn where you may be consuming excess sugar without realising it.
Combining healthful foods with sugary foods is a great way to help with sugar cravings. Not only does it mean you're not eating concentrated sugar alone, you're also eating less of it.
Chew sugar-free gum
Chewing gum is thought to be an effective remedy for food cravings. If you're choosing to chew gum to stop a sugar addiction in its tracks then choosing a sugar-free gum is your best option. You could opt for a xylitol-based gum for a natural chewing gum option that can provide benefits for your oral health too.
Choose fruit or dried fruit
Choosing to eat fruit or dried fruit can help you to snack on something healthier while also keeping away from too concentrated a dose of sugar. Choose fruits that are sweet to get that hit of sweetness you want and trick your sweet tooth into thinking it’s the real deal!
Did you know that exercise is actually great for taking your mind off of food cravings? Getting out and getting your heart rate pumping can be really effective in helping you to avoid eating too much sugar. Exercise also comes with the added benefit of being really good for your health too!
Choose quality over quantity
Choosing to eat better sugary snacks that are rich and more flavourful can help you to reduce your consumption. Choosing a dark and rich chocolate truffle over a whole bag of gummy bears is a great way to eat less sugar as the richness of the truffle will mean you can’t eat too many. You're also likely to find less refined sugar in richer products that use dark chocolate.
This may seem very obvious but ensuring that you get three filling and nutritious meals a day can help you to stop needing to reach for sugary snacks. Making sure you're full and satisfied when you've eaten a meal can help to avert the need for sugar.
Get enough sleep
We've already discussed why lack of sleep can cause sugar cravings which is why you should be trying to get a decent amount of quality sleep each night. Not only will this help in your fight against sugar cravings, but it is also great for your health.
Five alternatives to sugary snacks you can try today
So, we've gone on and on about how you should avoid sugary snacks and you're probably wondering where you're going to get your fix from if you can't have sugary snacks. Well, for those with a sweet tooth, we've created a list below of a few great snack alternatives you could try to satisfy your need for sweetness without creating a sugar dependence.
Check it out now!
Dried fruit, like dried mango, dried papaya, and dates, are all great alternatives to sugary snacks. While they do contain sugar themselves, it is naturally occurring sugar and comes with a healthy dose of fibre too.
Dried fruit contains lots of nutrients which makes it a more healthful option, but care should be taken not to consume too much!
Eating fruit, the non-dried version, is also a great alternative. If you need to satisfy a sweet tooth then there are plenty of sweet fruits you can choose from that don't involve adding more sugar to your diet. Though there is sugar in fruit, it is alongside fibre and other macro-nutrients that can help to balance your blood sugar levels and keep sugar cravings at bay.
Unlike milk and white chocolate, dark chocolate is much lower in added sugar and contains minerals and antioxidants that are good for your health. Dark chocolate is also relatively rich, meaning you're unlikely to be able to eat as much of it in one go.
Dark chocolate is thought to have lots of health benefits, including having a positive impact on peoples moods, particularly those suffering from depression.
Though granola bars and other energy bars can have lots of hidden sugars, finding natural and sugar-free snack bars is a great alternative to a chocolate bar. You could also consider making your own bars to control the amount of sugar that is added to them.
Nuts, seeds, and trail mix
Nuts and seeds are a very good source of protein and other vitamins and minerals. Though not as sweet as a sugary snack, they can help to boost your energy and are sometimes mixed with dried fruit for added sweetness.
If you find that you're struggling to not add sugar to your coffee, or you're in need of a good alternative for baking and cooking purposes, there are lots of different products you can try.
While lots of the options listed below contain sugars, they're naturally occurring and come alongside other vitamins and minerals too. This means they are slightly healthier, however, any sugar alternative should also be consumed in moderation as the sweetness can still lead to sugar cravings.
Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar
These syrup style sugar alternatives are great for adding to tea and coffee and can come in useful when baking. When it comes to honey, it is best to find local or manuka honey to ensure you're getting a good dose of nutrients too.
Coconut sugar comes from coconut palm sap and is completely natural. It is often used as a sugar substitution and is thought to have a few more nutritional benefits than regular table sugar. Coconut sugar is a good alternative, particularly because it is unrefined.
While stevia comes from natural sources, it is usually very refined by the time it reaches supermarket shelves. It is considered a healthier alternative to sugar, mostly because it has much fewer calories than table sugar. Stevia is a good sweetener for coffee and tea and is sometimes used in cooking too.
Another naturally occurring sweetener, xylitol is commonly used in sugar-free gum. It is thought to protect the teeth against cavities and boost oral health in a way that other sweeteners and sugar do not.
Sugar addiction affects more people than they know. Even a few sugar cravings a week can lead to a dependency on sugar which can become unhealthy for your mind and your body. If you think you are consuming too much sugar, there are many things you can do about it. These include removing sugary foods from your space, quitting sugar cold turkey, combining sugar with healthful foods, and limiting the amount of sugar you consume.
There are lots of alternatives to sugary snacks and you can curb your cravings by ensuring you eat regularly, get enough sleep, and eat other options like fruit, dried fruit, and dark chocolate in place of sugary junk food. As well as alternatives to sugary snacks, there are also sugar alternatives you could try to boost your health while still getting your sweet fix.
To find out more about sugar alternatives check out our products here, and for some great natural snack options, check out our sweets and snacks section too.
Frequently asked questions
What are the signs of sugar addiction?
The biggest sign that someone has a sugar addiction is excessive consumption of sugar-rich foods. But sugar addiction also comes with other symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, bloating and cravings for sweet food. Sugar is thought to be as addictive as some illegal drugs and so a sugar addiction needs to be treated with seriousness too. Once you identify a sugar addiction, you should begin trying to quit excessive consumption of sugar for your health and your mind.
How do I stop my sugar addiction?
Stopping a sugar addiction means removing sugar from your diet. You could do this by quitting cold turkey and dealing with the withdrawal symptoms, or you could gradually reduce the amount of sugar you consume. You could begin by limiting your sugar intake and combining sugar with healthful foods that help to regulate blood sugar levels, like fruit and dried fruit. You could also try sweetening your own food to get control of the amount of sugar you're eating.
How long does it take to break a sugar addiction?
It is thought that a two-week break from sugar is enough to reset your body. In these two weeks, you may completely quit sugar or you can stick to the recommended daily amount of six teaspoons of added sugar. Once you have done this, you can work on ways of dealing with sugar cravings, such as combining sugar with fruit, nuts, and dried fruit to help blood sugar levels, swapping sugary snacks for more healthful ones, and limiting your sugar intake.
What deficiency causes sugar cravings?
There are a few mineral deficiencies that can cause sugar cravings. One major deficiency that causes this is a magnesium deficiency which can cause fatigue and lack of quality sleep, leading you to feel the need for an energy boost from a sugary snack. Other mineral deficiencies that cause sugar cravings include zinc, chromium, iron, and calcium.