Sugar: Our Addictively Sweet Drug of Choice

Sweet Treats - the reward reserved for the last day of school, after the soccer game, or maybe even to end a bad day.


Sugar has long been integrated into our culture as a reward mechanism but, these sweet treats are now in almost everything we consume and no longer just an indulgence we enjoy once in a while. You may be wondering, what’s so bad about this sweet white powder that we’ve come to crave? Sugar, and its many derivatives, actually trigger the release of opioids and dopamine in the body- the neurotransmitters that trigger the “reward circuit”, and …addiction. Regardless of the trigger, the chemical reward we experience is “the high”— that feeling of euphoria that we’re so naturally inclined to want more of. The addictive quality of sugar compared to prescription (and non- prescription) drugs has been the cause of much debate, however, the easily accessible sugar fix impacts our biochemistry in much the same ways. Like amphetamines and alcohol, too much added sugar can actually change the wiring in the brain and lead to withdrawal symptoms, cravings and binging.

So why does sugar cause so much harm? To start, refined sugars (i.e. fructose, sucrose), sugar alcohols, and sugar substitutes were absent from the human diet for much of human history meaning we have not evolved to tolerate sugar in the amounts that many Americans are consuming them today. While there are many biological commonalities between sweetened diets and drugs of abuse, the addictive nature of sugar was largely unknown, which is why one study aimed to find out just how troublesome this substance may be…

“The findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants.”

While sugar addiction is a real thing, there’s nothing wrong with a little sweet indulgence every now and then! Like most things, its all about balance. So how do you keep those treats from turning tricks on you? Here’s our go-to list of tips for busting those sugar cravings:

1. Eat more Magnesium, Chromium, and Zinc!
These vital nutrients act as regulators of glucose, insulin, and that powerful neurotransmitter - dopamine. This helps improve our insulin sensitivity - and how well we metabolize sugars.
Low magnesium levels can actually induce those intense cravings for chocolate, and all things sweet. The good news is that indulging in that chocolate craving can actually provide that much-needed nutrient— just make sure its the good stuff! True dark chocolate, made with antioxidant-rich cacao beans and no dairy with minimal natural sugar is a rich source of magnesium and zinc, but so are things like dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds!

2. Maintain Blood Sugar Balance!
Eating regular meals throughout the day, and maintaining a good balance of macronutrients, helps balance blood sugar levels and can curb even the worst of cravings. Going too long without fuel can lead to those awful blood sugar lows- which of course just makes us crave a sugar high that much more. A well-balanced plate with good carbohydrates, protein (yes plants have protein too!) and fats, help keep us satiated.

3. Avoid Added Sugars!
The best way to stay out of the whole “reward circuit” is to avoid it! Instead, try indulging in more natural sweetness— like fruit! Ripe bananas or applesauce make for easy sugar swaps in many things.

4. Eat More Fat
Healthy fats- from things like avocado and nuts- also help to balance out blood sugar. The next time you have a craving for something sweet- try a bit of almond butter instead.

5. Spice it Up!
Research has shown that warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, have the ability to lower & balance blood sugar! Try adding these spices to your everyday foods, smoothies, and even coffee!

Last, but not least, Get Rid of it! Kick temptation in the butt by doing a pantry clean- out!

Not sure where to start? Check out our 21-Day LYFE Transformation program for the full gameplan to kick your sugar addiction and learn how to optimize your health.

1. Magalie Lenoir, Fuschia Serre, Lauriane Cantin, and Serge H. Ahmed. Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward. PLoS One. 2007. [PubMed]