Establishing a scientifically supported connection between sugar consumption and the development of an addiction in humans remains a challenge today. The evidence for sugar addiction in animals (rats) has been extensively demonstrated over the years, but the results of human studies are not yet fully understood.
According to some scholars, however, we would be unable to identify sugar abstinence in humans due to our naturally varied and balanced (omnivorous) diet. Some scientific evidence suggests that added sugar is a “problem” substance, as it may trigger behaviors similar to addictive drugs. Additionally, the combination of sugars and fats is particularly potent in promoting overeating and subsequent weight gain.
Food Addiction And Obesity
Since the 1980s, the number of overweight or obese adults has increased significantly worldwide, with similar trends among children and adolescents. The extent and impact of obesity are indisputable, as it is now known that excess adipose tissue (fat) is linked to the onset of numerous diseases and various health complications. Among the possible explanations for this tendency to gain weight, the concept of food addiction is increasingly gaining ground.
- By “food addiction,” we mean an irrepressible impulse, frequent above all – but not only – in big eaters, who have frequent episodes of excessive and uncontrolled food consumption ( binge eating ).
- According to science, the impulsive consumption of palatable foods, very often rich in sugars and fats, can be placed within the same neurobiological framework as the consumption of drugs.
- Symptoms of food addiction, which approximate those of drug addiction, include loss of control, withdrawal, and cravings for delicious and tempting foods.
Theron Randolph, a medical allergist, first used the term “food addiction” in 1956 to describe the consumption of certain foods that can be addictive, such as corn, eggs, and potatoes.
However, concerning this original description, there is now an emerging point of view according to which foods are particularly rich in sugars (e.g., breakfast cereals, baked goods, sugary drinks, etc.) and foods rich in fats mainly processed, therefore processed, or processed foods (e.g., packaged or artisan pizzas and scones, savory snacks such as chips and pretzels, frankfurters, sausages, convenience foods, etc.) are more likely to be addictive.
Symptoms Of Food Addiction
- Frequent episodes of binge eating, driven by a solid motivation to consume, with a feeling of losing control over what one eats (can’t stop).
- I eat very quickly until feeling uncomfortably full, entirely until I get sick.
- I was eating large amounts of food even when you’re not hungry.
- Eating alone, as we are often ashamed of the amount of food swallowed.
- After each binge episode, I feel guilt, self-loathing, and depression, but, despite this, there is a persistence in my attitude.
Sugar (monosaccharides such as fructose and glucose) is a highly palatable and desirable food. It activates various processes in our body for the caloric intake (energy) it provides and its pleasant taste.
- When consuSugarer “reward systems” too strongly, pushing when consumed excessively towards compulsive eating.
- At the cerebral level, the nutritional and gustatory sensations that we perceive and the sending of homeostatic signals from the hypothalamus become less effective in communicating with each other to communicate the state of satiety to the body, so we are driven to eat more and more.
- Among all the synthetic sweeteners added to foods and drinks, fructose is particularly crucial since it is not immediately available for use by brain activities but still gives us a sweet and pleasant taste without any nutritional contribution, i.e., it only brings the so-called empty calories. Furthermore, immoderate consumption of added fructose (sweetener) is linked to neurodegenerative, inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s; it can increase the desire for food (incredibly unhealthy snacks), leading us to eat more and, consequently, to produce and store excess fat.
Warning: in this case, we are not talking about fruit fructose, i.e., the sugar naturally contained in fruit, but about the sweetener fructose, i.e., a synthetic food additive used to give food and drinks a sweet taste. Its sweetening power is about a third higher than sucrose (table sugar), so small quantities can obtain a delightful taste.
- Consuming a lot of refined sugars (sucrose, artificial sweeteners such as fructose, maltose, etc.), even for only a short period, negatively affects the intestinal microbiota (i.e., the environment made up of good bacteria, fungi, etc., which maintains the health of our digestive tract), favoring the development of colitis and increasing the inflammatory response. Instead, the short-chain fatty acids found in dietary fibers can positively affect the intestine, rebalancing the intestinal inflammatory state caused by excess sugar.
- Sugar also gives us pleasure in the brain, as it increases the availability of dopamine (just like drugs), so people who consume lots of sugary foods will be more inclined to seek the sweet taste almost obsessively-compulsively, just like the mechanism of drug addiction.
Risks Of Excess Sugar
Overeating sugar can lead not only to weight gain but also to several addiction-related health risk conditions, such as:
- Predisposition to obesity-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, hepatic steatosis or fatty liver, arterial hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
- Dental caries, as the bacteria in the mouth, feeds on sugars.
- Insomnia and sleep disorders. The glycemic peak does not favor good rest, and further weight gain can favor sleep apnea syndrome.
- Weaker immune system. Our intestinal microbiota (bacteria, viruses, and fungi that inhabit the intestine) is a fundamental part of the immune system. If sugars are in excess, intestinal dysbiosis is created, negatively affecting our immune system defenses.
- Skin problems. Too much sugar can lead to hormonal imbalances, which also affect the skin (e.g., acne, dermatitis).
- Migraine (headache) is also linked to impaired digestion of excess sugars.
- Energy imbalances occur because sugar causes blood sugar (blood sugar levels) to spike and crash, making us feel more tired or energized, depending on how much of it we have in our system.
The health risks of excess sugar affect not only adults but children as well. An obese child will have a high probability of remaining obese even as an adult, incurring serious diseases from a young age (such as juvenile diabetes ). Do you know how much sugar your children eat every day?
Six Tips To Fight Sugar Addiction
- Limit simple sugars as much as possible. If constantly in contact with the sweet taste, our taste buds adapt to the high quantity of sugars we introduce with food, and to satisfy the demands of the now accustomed body, they will always want more. Consequently, before we perceive a food or drink as sweet and sugary, getting used to ingesting high quantities of sugars, we will then perceive it with a typical taste or add more sugar. That’s why nutritionists recommend avoiding sugary drinks(coffee, infusions, tea, infusions, milk, etc.); gradually reducing the sugar intake, we will get used to the natural flavor of food again. Some foods already contain sugar and do not need to be sweetened: this is the case with milk, which naturally contains its sugar, i.e., lactose. If you are intolerant, you can consume lactose-free milk and dairy products, such as Grana Padano DOP, which is naturally lactose-free. This cheese contains the highest amount of calcium among the most commonly consumed ones but also provides many proteins with high biological value (with the nine essential amino acids), important vitamins such as B2 and B12, and antioxidants such as vitamin A, zinc, and selenium. You can also use grated Grana Padano DOP daily to season first courses and soups instead of salt.
- Avoid drinking sugary drinks. Ice teas, fruit juices, other soft drinks such as cola or orange soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, etc., contain high amounts of sugars (in particular synthetic fructose). For this reason, they are universally recognized as the main culprits of sugar addiction. Remember that these drinks do not promote a sense of satiety, also due to their liquid consistency, which drives us to drink large quantities and, without realizing it, we introduce lots of sugars. Try to get used to consuming only water, the natural “nutrient” for our body.
- Check the nutrition label before buying food or drink. Many foods contain hidden sugars (e.g., stews, ready-made soups and sauces, breakfast cereals, sandwich bread, sauces such as mayonnaise and ketchup, some yogurts, etc.). Therefore it is a good rule to always check the label. If you see sugar listed among the first ingredients, the food is primarily made up of sugars. Another trick for the supermarket: make an organized shopping list and buy only what you need, without giving in too much to temptation.
- Follow a balanced diet. Following a diet that is as varied as possible, which respects the weekly frequency of food, and includes an abundant consumption of fresh vegetables and fruit, with a higher percentage of whole grains compared to refined analogs, will allow you to better control the sugars you consume.
- Get regular physical activity. Movement helps you dispose of excess fat (do you know how much fat there is in your body? Calculate your fat mass for free here ), optimize blood sugar levels, and keep your body and mind healthy. Carve out some time daily to do physical activity, such as a walk in the park or a nice ride, and limit sedentary habits, such as always taking the lift or permanently using the car instead of walking. One hundred fifty minutes of physical activity a week is the least you can do to stay healthy if you can get to 300 minutes a week.
- Learn to manage stress. Stress often triggers the search for sweet food for consolidation purposes as if it were a haven. Instead, try to do relaxation activities, such as yoga and meditation, or even simple breathing exercises: they will allow you to manage stress in an alternative and fun way.
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