There’s a reason why sugar is dubbed the silent killer — it feels innocent, it’s found in pretty much everything we eat and drink and it tastes good. But it also gets you hooked, dooming you into sugar addiction.
While there isn’t a textbook definition for sugar addiction, we understand that consuming sugar uncontrollably has detrimental effects on the body, mind, and behaviour:
Effects of Sugar Cravings on Our Body
- High blood pressure
- Chronic diseases
- Heart diseases
- Various types of cancers
Effects of Sugar Cravings on Our Mind
- Mood disorders
Effects of Sugar Cravings on Our Behaviour
- Heavy cravings
- Eating when not hungry
- Going out of your way to get sugary food
Understanding Sugar Addiction
Sugar addiction is a pervasive health concern that many people grapple with, often without even realising it. This dependency on sugar can be likened to an addiction to drugs or alcohol, given the powerful cravings and withdrawal symptoms it can trigger.
How sugar affects the brain
You see, when sugar hits our tongue, it tells our taste buds to send a signal to the brain. This signal then activates the brain’s reward system, triggering our feel-good chemical — dopamine, which makes us want more sugar, hence repeating this sugary cycle.
Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t respond the same way for someone with a sugar addiction. As far as we understand it, the brain will adapt and rewire itself into a state of perpetual sugar meals.
How dopamine influences addictive behaviours
Another key aspect of understanding sugar addiction is the power of dopamine. There was research conducted by the National Library of Medicine in Maryland on rats and their performance in tasks involving the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Rats that were fed high-sugar diets craved more and more (dopamine). Those same rats also were not as good at memory tasks (impaired prefrontal cortex and hippocampus). Other rat-related studies involving sugar resulted in inflammation and short-term memory.
Foods and beverages that contribute to sugar addiction
It starts with an innocent spoonful of sugar before everything gets out of hand and turns into a full-blown sugar addiction. Let’s take a look at some of the common foods and drinks that contain added sugar:
Foods Containing Added Sugar
- Low-fat yoghurt
- Barbeque sauce
- Spaghetti sauce
- Protein bars
- Breakfast cereal
- Cereal bars
- Canned fruit
- Canned baked beans
Drinks Containing Added Sugar
- Fruit juice
- Sports drinks
- Chocolate milk
- Flavoured coffee
- Iced tea
- Pre-made soup
- Pre-made smoothies
Causes and Triggers of Sugar Addiction
There are many reasons for the causes of sugar addiction, and they go beyond the surface. Let’s see how the overconsumption of sugar can potentially affect our mental health on multiple levels:
Several studies reported possible links between FGF21, Prkar2a, and SLC6A4 genes and sugar cravings — the start of sugar addiction. Most of them consumed more sweet foods, had binge-eating episodes, emotional eating, and higher BMI scores.
Eateries are selling sugary foods everywhere — another cause of sugar addiction. This makes it tempting and more susceptible for someone to cave in. Not to mention, the social environment matters too. If a person has many friends with a sweet tooth, they’re more likely to join in.
According to Addiction Center of Orlando, United States, another cause of sugar addiction stems from how it’s a “quick fix” to emotional problems. Feeling stressed or tired? Get an instant energy boost with sugar, but it comes with the caveat of your mental health, such as damaging self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, low self-worth and more.
How to Curb Sugar Addiction
Whether from a nutritional or well-being standpoint, understanding how to curb sugar addiction is essential. Check out these practical tips and strategies to live a low-sugar lifestyle:
Understand your body
Sometimes, you aren’t hungry but just craving something sweet. It’s times like these that you need to make the right nutritional decisions to avoid mindless sugar-snacking.
Create basic structures
Learning how to curb sugar addiction doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it’s as easy as balancing three main components — protein, healthy fats, and high-fibre carbohydrates.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Water dilutes the sugar in our bloodstream, making the peaks and valleys of sugar addiction more manageable.
Cutting sugar from the ingredient list
Try eliminating sugar in your sauces and condiments. With sugar being the most popular ingredient in packaged foods, a little change may go a long way to your sugar addiction recovery journey.
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