One of the extreme statements parents might see floating around the internet is something along the lines of “sugar is addictive,” or going even further, “Sugar is addictive as cocaine!”
I’m not going to write that we should all be shoveling sugar by the spoonful, despite Mary Poppins’ advice about taking medicine. I’m also not one to say that we should regularly be eating high-calorie sweet treats, or drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. It’s just that I’m not a fan of exaggeration and hyperbole or demonizing specific ingredients, as some fearmongers seem willing to do, especially when there are book deals or TV shows involved.
Let’s look at it less emotionally.
Claim: Sugar is addictive because it lights up the pleasure centers of our brain like a drug.
Taking it apart: Stimulation of the pleasure center of the brain can be caused by “drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex and foods” ( not only sugar). I have even read that seeing cute pictures of babies, puppies and kittens will stimulate the pleasure center of our brain, and perhaps this explains the popularity of puppy videos. Do we try and ban babies or puppies? Of course not! When the pleasure center of the brain is activated, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Dopamine isn’t a bad thing as it has many roles in the body including helping regulate movement, sleep, and learning; but it has also been implicated in those with issues with addiction. The studies that made headlines specifically linking sugar to addiction-like behavior were done in rats, therefore translating that to human behavior is not necessarily accurate.
What’s the bottom line?: Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages may be helpful in improving health for you and your children, reducing the risk of certain diseases (if more nutritious choices are made), and helping with weight loss. But remember, that line for grams of sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel doesn’t just mean white cane sugar but also molasses, honey, sorghum syrup, dehydrated cane juice, agave syrup and many more.
Are there individuals who rely on sugar-sweetened beverages and foods to help enhance their mood or those that lack control when presented with sweet treats….certainly. As far as sugar being as addictive as cocaine, the chances that you would hold up a bank to buy a bag of candy or have severe withdrawal symptoms as you would if you were addicted to an illegal drug are slim to none, but it sure does grab headlines and your attention.