According to recent studies, sugar is more addictive than alcohol and tobacco – with one prominent academic dubbing it ‘the most dangerous drug of our time’. Eevee’s newest writer, Uxshely Chotai delves a little deeper, and explains why having a sweet tooth is a lot more dangerous than you’d think…
We’ve all heard of people going to rehab for drug addiction. We know of people who try hard to stop drinking, and of those who desperately want to quit smoking. But just in case you’re feeling a tiny bit smug because you don’t have any of these vices, the truth us, many of us have an addiction that we don’t even know about. Every time we reach for a bar of chocolate, a cheesecake or a blueberry muffin, we are feeding our addiction to sugar. The average Briton consumes 10 teaspoons of sugar a day, and some Britons have as many as 46 teaspoons. When you think about it like that, it would seem that we are all addicts…
What is Sugar?
Melt in the mouth chocolate mousse, indulgent banoffee pie, chocolaty profiteroles, gooey toffee and other rich and creamy, sweet foods fill aisles of our shops: how can anyone blame us for finding them irresistible? We crave them when we are hungry, when we are sad, once we have eaten something salty and even just when we are bored. There is sugar calling to us from every corner, enticing us to give in and indulge our sweet tooth. Our society is obsessed with sugar.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. The sugar that we eat every day comes in many forms. Fruits and some root vegetables naturally contain the sugar fructose, and lactose is the sugar which can be found naturally in milk. Sucrose is used as table sugar, whilst high-fructose corn syrup is a sugar made from corn which is added to many of the foods we eat. Our cells need a certain amount of sugar to survive. However, it appears that we are eating far more sugar than our bodies need.
Warnings against eating too much sugar…
Many of us wake up each morning and find that we are still tired. We put the alarm on snooze again and don’t feel ready to go to work. What do we reach for to give us the kick we need to start our day? We either choose a cup of coffee with several sugars, a bowl of sugary cereal or a chocolate chip muffin. Sugar is added to a lot of these foods. The NHS has advised that we should be cutting down on these added sugars.
In January of last year, Andy Burnham, the Opposition Health Secretary, called for politicians to ban high-sugar foods such as Frosties and Sugar Puffs. It seems that sugar adds extra calories to our diet but does not contribute any nutritional value. At the start of 2013, the British Medical Journal published research carried out by the World Health Organisation which proves that diets high in sugar lead to weight gain. People are aware that sugar may not be very good for them, but do they know just how addictive it is?
How is sugar a drug?
Most of us feel tired and drained when it hits three or four o’ clock in the afternoon. It has been just long enough since our lunch and is just far away enough from our dinner, that we have no energy left to continue the day. So what do we do? We reach for our favourite chocolate bar, the packet of biscuits or the birthday cake that is left in the kitchen. We need our fix. Perhaps the reason we reach for these treats can be explained by the research which shows that sugar is highly addictive.
The head of Amsterdam’s health service, Paul van der Velpen stated on an official public health website that “Just like alcohol and tobacco, sugar is actually a drug. There is an important role for government. The use of sugar should be discouraged. And users should be made aware of the dangers”. Simon Capwell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool also stated that “Sugar is the new tobacco”.
These dangers were demonstrated by a study carried out in Bordeaux in 2007 which showed that rats which were addicted to cocaine would choose sugar over cocaine. A paper published by the French scientists responsible for the animal trials suggested that mammal’s sweet receptors cannot adapt to deal with the high concentrations of sugary tastes available today. The study suggested that our sugar-rich diets create an unusual reward signal in the brain which has the ability to override our natural self-control mechanisms. This is how we become addicted to sugar; we just cannot help ourselves.
So why do we reach for sugar at breakfast, lunch and dinner? Perhaps we are all addicted to it. As Paul van der Velpen stated “Whoever uses sugar wants more and more, even when they are no longer hungry. Give someone eggs and he’ll stop eating at any given time. Give him cookies and he eats on even though his stomach is painful”.
If everyone was reaching for heroin, cocaine or cigarettes every few hours we would be more worried. However, nobody seems bothered that most people cannot resist the creamy cupcake display, the decadent chocolate truffles, the freshly-baked cookies or the soft, sweet doughnuts brought into work by colleagues. Even just the thought of these sweet delights weakens out defences. With temptation all around who can blame us. It would seem that we’re already addicts.