Sugar may not be so sweet after all

It is everywhere, in just about everything and enjoyed by just about everyone. Sugar. While a large majority of the population may like to limit the amount of sugar within their diet there is a high likelihood that their favourite food possesses at least a small amount of sugar. It is quite evident that this small carbohydrate has a strong hold on our diets, but why exactly are we all so addicted to sugar?

The Sugar Reward System

To understand why we are so addicted to sugar we must first understand what happens when we eat sugar. To begin with sugar activates the sweet taste receptors on our tongue which has a domino effect on our neural system. These receptors on the tongue send a signal up the brain stem and activate many areas of the brain. The major area being the cerebral cortex which serves as the thought and control centre of the whole body. This then leads to the activation of the brains reward system which tells us that we have in fact done something good and that we should definitely do it again. A similar thing occurs during sex and when we socialize, and this allows sugar to sends our reward system out of control.

Image credit: Pixabay

But why is it so addictive?

The answer to this question lies with an important little chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine is a small chemical in the brain that sends signals throughout the body to inform us that what we just did felt good and that we should definitely do it again. Once we ingest sugar it sends dopamine into overdrive and shows a response similar to a drug addiction. This means that our brain constantly feels rewarded and tells us to keep reaching for the cookie jar to indulge in one more bite of delicious sugar. Furthermore, the dopamine reward system levels out if you continue to eat the same thing i.e. vegetables, explaining why we are always looking for diversity in our diets, and what substance is able to provide us with variety? Correct, sugar is such a diverse carbohydrate, being present in such a wide range of foods, that our body is constantly greeted with new and delightful ways to enjoy sugar. This means that our dopamine response never wavers, leading to constant sugar cravings and even addiction.

What can we do?

While sugar has a strong hold on our diets there is a way to combat its tight grip on our lives, and it is as obvious as you think. Exercise and a balanced diet. But while it may seem like too obvious of a solution, exercise gives a similar dopamine response to eating sugar by creating a substitute reward system for the body. Meanwhile a healthy diet cuts down a great deal of sugar and allows you to detox, all while reducing the intensity of sugar cravings. By doing these things it allows the bodies reward system to reset and once again remain in control.

Photo Credit: Maxpixel

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2 Responses to “Sugar may not be so sweet after all”

  1. Dominic Thorn says:

    Nice post Pat. I remember hearing that the WHO concluded that there is no lower limit to healthy sugar consumption.
    So I, like Jamie, wonder how much sugar is actually in a healthy diet?

  2. Jamie says:

    Hi Patrick! Thank you for making this concept so easy to understand. While you explained how sugar is linked to the release of dopamine and its implications very clearly, I just wanted to note one thing. Cutting out foods high in sugar specifically would indeed lower the amount of sugar in our diet, but using the phrase “healthy diet” is subjective – people could turn to a diet entirely of fruits because they perceive it to be healthier, but still ingest lots of sugar as a result! It might be good idea to include what constitutes a healthy diet (in relation to sugar in particular) in your article 🙂