It is well known that sugar is bad for us. Consumption of it leads to diabetes and it contains absolutely no nutrients. It is pure and fast energy, and as a species, we love sugar – but why?
If we look at what our natural diet and biology is based on it begins to makes sense.
Our natural diet, which we evolved to adapt efficiently to, contains virtually no sugar. The only sugar we had real access to was honey and fruit. Honey was incredibly hard to obtain, and fruit was seasonal and abundant in vitamins and minerals. Our natural diet can only be meat (including fish), roots, nuts, seed, vegetables and fruit. We had very little sugar in our diet, but because it was such a great source of energy, and usually accompanied with micro-nutrients we are ‘programmed’ to like it. After all, quick energy was needed to survive back then!
When we consume sugar ‘reward’ signals go off in the brain, making us feel happy and satisfied for eating it. This happy and rewarding feeling becomes associated by ourselves with sugar, meaning we seek it out to feel good.
So, are we addicted?
I certainly think sugar is addictive, through the same mechanisms as some drugs. Addiction comes about from craving the rewarding feeling, but the more of the substance you consume, the less responsive the rewarding system is, meaning we crave even more! A vicious cycle, and just because sugar is a legal substance doesn’t mean it isn’t addictive or dangerous. I recently heard that when rats were presented with cocaine and sugar, they constancy preferred the sugar over one of the most addictive substances. A scary thought!
This isn’t an excuse to eat sugar though!
With any addiction, it is wrong to think you are powerless. Sugar is a bit sneaky, in that as it is considered a food, we think it is safe to eat, but this is not the case. As a species we have quickly become addicted to sugar, and it is now in virtually all our foods. So if you have sugar craving, try and avoid processed foods, and go with what the body really wants – fruit!
Edit: The information in this article is explained in great detail in the recent documentary ‘Addicted to Pleasure’ which was shown on BBC 1 on the 26th Nov 2012.