Claim: Sugar is addictive because it lights up the pleasure centers of our brain like a drug.
Taking it apart: Stimulation of the pleasure center of the brain can be caused by “drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex and foods” (not only sugar). I have even read that seeing cute pictures of babies, puppies and kittens will stimulate the pleasure center of our brain. When the pleasure center of the brain is activated, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Dopamine has many roles in the body including helping regulate movement, sleep, and learning, but it has also been implicated in those with issues with addiction. The studies that made headlines specifically linking sugar to addiction-like behavior however, were done in rats and therefore translating that to human behavior is not necessarily accurate.
What’s the bottom-line? Reducing our consumption of sugar sweetened foods and beverages may be helpful in improving health and reducing the risk of certain diseases (if you instead make more nutritious choices) and helping with weight loss. But remember, the grams of sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel doesn’t just mean white cane sugar but also molasses, honey, sorghum syrup, dehydrated cane juice, agave syrup and many more.
Are there individuals who rely on sugar-sweetened beverages and foods to help enhance their mood or those that lack control when presented with sweet treats? Certainly! As far as sugar being as addictive as cocaine…the chances that you would hold up a bank to buy a bag of candy or have severe withdrawal symptoms as you would if you were addicted to a drug are slim to none, but it sure does grab headlines and your attention!
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Leah McGrath, RDN, LDN
Ingles Markets Corporate Dietitian