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Sugar Questions Yet Again

A while ago, a client asked me what I thought about whether or not sugar is addictive, and I said I wasn’t sure. Then I read yet another article about sugar which said that it hadn’t been proven addictive. A confusing issue, one which has a direct impact on our thinking, and often our behavior, around sugar-laden foods. I blog on this subject to help you decide how you want to make choices about them.

Here’s the verbatim text from the article, “EN Answers Your Most Pressing Questions About Sugar,” from the highly respected journal, Environmental Nutrition (March 2010): “Scientists believe that the preference humans seem to have for sweets is probably a long-cultivated, protective mechanism against poisonous substances, since many poisons taste bitter while many safe, nutritious foods, like fruit, taste sweet. But does that mean humans have a natural tendency to crave sweets? According to a paper published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews in the first issue of 2008, sugar is a substance that releases opioids and dopamine; thus it might be expected to have addictive potential. However, true addictions involve cravings, tolerance and withdrawal. People do not often crave pure sugar, but rather a sweet food, like candy or cookies. The nature of tolerance implies that a person needs more and more sugar to satisfy the craving, and withdrawal indicates that if the craving is not satisfied, the person will experience actual physical symptoms. While some people, especially women, report symptoms of craving and withdrawal for sugar and sweetened foods, science does not yet support that sugar is addictive.”

The article’s conclusion is that “It seems that the optimal way to deal with sugar is to limit foods with added sugars, but to continue to enjoy them in moderation instead of banning them altogether. For many, the decision about how much sugar to eat every day will rest on personal experience instead of scientific evidence. And since your body can do quite well without eating added sugar, there’s no concern if you choose to eliminate it.”

I’m not advocating trying to eat sugar “normally” or eliminating it from your diet. I like the fact that this article refers you back to your own unique preferences. You may never know whether or not sugar is addictive. You don’t need to know. What you need is a plan for how to relate to sugar based on your history with it. Rather than look outside yourself to experts on the subject, why not take the article’s advice and do what is real from your own experience. Here is yet another instance of learning to trust yourself.