Sugar – The New High

Nicky Flood sugar
We are a society of sugar addicts, let’s face it. The very essence of marketing drives us to consume sugar and the act of consuming sugar drives us to consume more. Sugar is one of the most heavily marketed products out there, especially towards children, who are exposed to a startling 40,000 television adverts every year.

Sugar is added to a surprising number of foods as it boosts flavour, is a great preservative, serves as a bulking agent, balances the acidity of food and above all, it is very cheap.
Sugar in itself is incredibly addictive and this can be triggered by various scenarios – hunger, low blood sugar, stress, mood, certain places and of course the smell and sight of the food itself.

Our taste buds have slowly become skewed by the food industry to favour sweet or salty while bitter and sour are now virtually redundant. But is it is as simple as all that?

Scientists have found that sugar is one of the few foods that activates the ‘reward system’ in the brain – the same neural pathway as drug and alcohol addiction. According to a recent research study, refined sugar is far more addictive than cocaine – one of the most addictive and harmful substances currently known.

An astonishing 94% of rats who were allowed to choose between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar. Even rats who were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice. The rats were also more willing to work for sugar than for cocaine.

The researchers speculate that the sweet taste buds, which evolved slowly in ancestral times when the diet was very low in sugar, have not adapted to modern times – high-sugar consumption.

Therefore, the abnormally high stimulation of these receptors by our sugar-rich diets generates excessive reward signals in the brain, which have the potential to override normal self-control mechanisms, and thus lead to addictions and over-eating. Studies also show that children who consume a lot of sugar in childhood are predisposed to addictive tendencies later in life.

To label sugar as a natural product intimating that it is healthy is dangerous. It is not natural to take a substance from a plant, process it to such an extent that it is unrecognisable and then consume it. Is it just the same as processing poppies into heroine and saying it is good for you because it comes from a plant?

Because we are so used to sugar as an everyday substance, we assume it is safe, when we are now discovering it is responsible for the ill-health of millions of people. I suspect in the not too distant future it shall be following the demise of genetically modified foods and trans fats.

Focus on feeding your reward system with tangible sources – exercise, music, an amazing sunset, a meaningful moment with your family, your dog licking your face – all of these are scientifically proven to trigger the same receptors in this system as sugar does, so start thinking about getting yourself a more natural high!

Nicky is a Naturopathic Nutritionist practising in Dublin. She writes, speaks and advises nationwide on all aspects of health, nutrition and wellbeing. Check for further info, upcoming courses and workshops.
By Nicky Flood