One thing I have noticed when looking around in the world we live in is that addiction is one of the biggest problems in society today. Doctors and psychologists have classified tons of different addictive disorders from drugs, alcohol, food, as well as non-biological things like television and video games (1).
Sugar, as well as alternative forms such as high fructose corn syrup are an additive in nearly every processed food you can buy, right at your local grocery store. You don’t need a license from a doctor, nor do you have to be of age to purchase it. If anything, stores are actually allowed to promote it directly to your children without getting your permission.
What would the world be like if we treated things like cocaine and heroine the same way? I don’t want to imagine a world like that but you would have to ask yourself, would things be any different?
As someone who has dealt with addictions before, there was one thing that I began noticing just before my entire life fell apart from type 2 diabetes. As I consumed as many carbohydrates as I could while washing them down with soda loaded with high fructose corn syrup, it became clear that I had an addiction. Me and my roommate were in Golden Corral at least once a week, gorging ourselves until we could barely walk. Pizza was often picked up from the local pizzaria, the kitchen was packed with plenty of bread, flour, snack foods, and everything you could find in a box.
Despite what many would think in this situation, I didn’t commonly have a bag of sugar in my kitchen. I wasn’t a coffee drinker, and unless I had plans to bake some cookies or a cake, I just didn’t buy it. I have met a lot of people who have said “I don’t have sugar addiction, I don’t even have a bag of sugar in my kitchen”. That brings me to this point:
You don’t have to necessarily eat sugar in order to have a sugar addiction!
So where did I get my sugar from? Well, I drank plenty of soda every day, that’s loaded with high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is a just a cheaper version of sugar, allowing the sugar pushing companies to manufacture their products with a little less overhead. Although the amount of soda I was drinking was definitely enough, let’s not forget other versions of sugar in my diet.
Before embarking on this journey, I didn’t know a single thing about diet. If you asked me what a carbohydrate was or dietary fiber, I honestly didn’t know the difference. It wasn’t until after things began falling apart that I started reading and learning how all of this actually works. A good number of my learning experiences came from mistakes I made along the way.
When people eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which enters the blood.
I quickly learned that when we intake too many carbohydrates, we are essentially packing our bodies full of sugar. That’s because when we eat food containing carbohydrates our bodies convert them into sugar, when in turn is released into the bloodstream (2). the body takes those carbs and converts them into sugar. After learning about the carb-sugar connection, I then tried Atkins, a diet that commonly consists of high fat, high protein, and low carbohydrates. Once again I fell flat on my face with elevated blood sugar, despite cutting my carbs to less that 20 grams a day (Atkins induction recommendation) and increasing my protein. I once again learned another lesson, low carb/high protein = gluconeogeneisis, which is a fancy word to describe when your body converts protein into glucose.
Another one of the many industry “traps” that have been set out there are artificial sweeteners. I mistakenly used things like sucralose and aspartame, both made in a laboratory and harmful to your health. Eventually I switched to liquid stevia extract, always checking to make sure there are no added ingredients. Not only can artificial sweeteners sabotage your diet, studies have shown that these chemically made substances can be harmful to your overall health (3)
In the conclusion of a study conducted in 2008 (4), doctors noted their observations on the apparent connections between sugar and addiction to amphetamines and alcohol:
The reviewed evidence supports the theory that, in some circumstances, intermittent access to sugar can lead to behavior and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse. According to the evidence in rats, intermittent access to sugar and chow is capable of producing a “dependency”. This was operationally defined by tests for bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization to amphetamine and alcohol (4).
The connection between sugar and drug addiction all comes down to the organic chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, an organic chemical substance that is used by the body’s nervous system to transmit data between nerve cells. When a large amount of dopamine is released, it creates a positive feeling of reward throughout the body, creating motivation to repeat certain behaviors (5).
Does it make any sense that if we continue to load our bodies down with the Standard American Diet that we will eventually become addicted? Does anyone wonder why people are attacking McDonald’s drive through employees because they ran out of McNuggets, or why people are killing each other over a Popeye’s chicken sandwich?
We’ve all heard of drug addicts killing each other, and the reason is obvious. However, when I read a news story about a Popeye’s being robbed by gun toting thugs demanding they make them chicken sandwiches, it really makes you wonder.