Is sugar as addictive as heroin or cocaine?

I’m about to bore y’all with a brief science lesson. But it’s good for you, I promise! And partially painless. And surprisingly interesting. I mention rats getting into fights! Like the Jets vs the Sharks. Seriously.

I read a very interesting article this morning. It’s written by a physician, so it contains a lot of words like amygdala, prefrontal cortex and striatum, but in the guts of the article, they discuss the effects of sugar on a susceptible brain. In a nutshell? It’s like crack.

An excerpt: “Animal studies reveal that hyperpalatable diets, and sweet ones in particular, are more rewarding—and potentially more addictive—than intravenous cocaine and heroin.

Lab rats with unlimited access to a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet almost eat themselves to death. They’ll voluntarily walk across an electrified plate and endure painful shocks in order to get their junk food hit. In one study, when rats had access to high-fat, high-carbohydrate food for only 1 hour a day, they consumed 65% of their daily calories in one sitting, continuously gorging until the food was removed. However, when the food disappeared they didn’t simply shrug their rodent shoulders and turn back to regular chow. Instead, they withdrew and curled up into a fetal position, soothing themselves with nervous hand-wringing, and becoming excessively twitchy and easily startled. They were hungry for their fix. Without it, they ended up with “the shakes.'”

What! That is insane to me.

The author even mentions that for women especially, even thinking about something sugary, such as chocolate milk, it automatically activates the part of the brain that controls emotion.

Lab rats,  once they become addicted (which takes them a week,) will eat anything including amphetamines and cocaine. Without their sugar fix, they begin to pick fights with other rats, shake or get angry. And when given the choice between alcohol, sugar or cocaine, they choose sugar. (Imagine an angry rat, dude. That’s scary.)

But according to the article, there’s hope. A study done on kids aged 7-11 who participated in vigorous activity for 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week actually gained IQ points. MRIs showed that the kids were making better decisions, having better social interactions and will keep them from feeling the need to eat junk food.

What does that mean for us adults? Stay active. Stand instead of sit. Make the effort each day to not become an addict.

The studies on food addiction is rapidly growing in popularity. I, personally, cannot wait to read some more about it. While I do believe that a lot of it is what goes into our food, as adults we are also able to make our own decisions on what we eat, and how much. Reading labels doesn’t take that long. Download the Fooducate app. Educate yourself.

Although, it does seem as if it’s not that black and white. Physical withdrawal symptoms scare me. A craving is one thing, but feeling that need to have to eat something is a completely different animal.

So I suppose it’s also a level of want. How bad do we want to be healthy? How bad do we want that fit body inside and out?

A mantra I use a lot, my mom taught me. When graced upon something that’s totally unhealthy I ask myself, “How will I feel five minutes after eating this?”

That said, I love to bake. I love to share what I bake. But what most probably don’t realize is that I share A LOT of what I make. If something makes two dozen, I share half of that with Matt’s coworkers, the gym, friends, or family. Or I freeze it. I make a conscious effort to teach myself as I do my kids, “Only after you eat your dinner, and not every day.” So while those brownies that I made a few days ago with peanut butter cups sound really, really good right now, I won’t eat them all. It’s not worth it. And that’s why they’re still around today. (Taunting me.)

Moderation, persistence and that will to not gain 50 pounds while pregnant is my push right now.

I just have to keep reminding myself that. Because those brownies are seriously like crack.


About Cassie

Two sisters from two misters. What could be more fun?

Posted on October 3, 2012, in Cassie. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Wheat is just as addictive and causes blood sugar to spike more than sugar just after consumption. So brownies include wheat and sugar – that’s a one-two punch!


    • You know, I’m glad you mention that. Counting carbs is just as important as counting sugar to a diabetic, why should it be any different for non-diabetics?

  2. Huh, strangely enough, I was just watching this yesterday on sugar addiction:

    Wait .. so the old Jets became the Coyotes, and the Thrashers became the Jets? Poor Atlanta, they keep losing teams to Canada.

  3. My MIL has told me this lab rat story twice in four days, and now you are quoting it too! I JUST WANT TO EAT MY SUGAR. (It really is scary, right?)

  4. Is it okay that I ate a lot of ice-cream today since afterwards I went for a 1.5 hour walk in the woods? Please say it is … please!! *nervously wrings hands*

  5. My landlord evidently thought you were talking football when you mentioned the Sharks and the Jets. That’s adorable.

    What’s interesting to me is that the takeaway from this study isn’t “eat less sugar” but “keep eating sugar, but just work out, too”. Everyone knows about the addictive powers of sugar, so let’s stop making things with so much sugar! And also be active, anyway!

  6. Did the mice curl up into a fetal position and then watch marathons of Tosh.0 and Storage Wars? ‘Cause I hear that happens.

    –I’m asking for a friend.

  7. And that is exactly why we no longer buy Dove Promises. I really can’t eat just one. And also why I bring my leftover birthday cake to work.

  8. When I was subbing the other day, after I finished my lunch, I realized I had nothing sweet to eat, and it really bothered me. So much so that I walked into the kitchen and asked, pleadingly, if the ladies had anything sweet. I was way more happy than I should have been that there was a cookie.

    My problem is that I forget when I have something sweet earlier in the day, and then I go on to eat dessert in the evening. I am not good at moderation.

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