Sugar’s Sweet Consequences

Isabel Hulkower, Columnist

Nearly everyone you know is likely a caffeine addict, craving it as soon as they wake up in the morning and rarely letting a day go by without a cup of coffee or tea to satisfy their addiction. Disturbingly enough, they are largely unapologetic, blissfully enjoying a substance that in reality is their captor. However, most adults have another dietary monkey on their backs: sugar.

Sugar addiction has recently come squarely into the public eye. Americans were once led to believe that fat was the most abominable nutrient enemy, but the hegemonic health powers have since wised up and begun to seriously scrutinize sugar’s severe side-effects. The Ameri­can Heart Association recommends eating no more than six teaspoons a day for women and nine for men, de­spite the fact that most of our fellow citizens are eating 22.

However, how serious of an is­sue is that? Ingesting more than the recommended dose of the most de­licious additive in the world should be expected of us mere mortals. As it turns out, our collective and twisted relationship with sugar often goes beyond healthy reverence and falls squarely into dangerous territory.

The first order of business is whether sugar is really that bad for you. Added sugar (e.g. high-fructose corn syrup) is prevalent in the sweet, delicious processed foods and drinks that we have become accustomed to over the years. This kind of sugar should be avoided at all costs. Sugar intake of any kind is directly related to obesity, heart disease, decreased immune function and diabetes, and fructose provides absolutely no nutri­tional content and is best known for giving us a rapid surge in energy that concludes in an immobile state of drowsiness. On a daily level, it causes crazy spikes in blood sugar, which leads to more intense cravings later. Sugar is a mood-altering drug and stresses your adrenal glands, which can lead to anxiety and fatigue. If you need any more reasons, it will also rot your teeth and contribute to dull, sag­ging skin.

If this ingredient is so toxic, why do most consumers eat three times as much as they should? That ex­tremely rhetorical question brings us back to the idea of addiction. The scientific community is more than familiar with sugar’s addictive quali­ties. When lab rats are given a choice between sugar water and intravenous cocaine, 94 percent of them opt for sugar. That same study showed that rats that were already addicted to coke happily switched their vice to sugar when given the choice. This behavior stems from how the brain handles pleasurable food; while most ingredients stimulate the eating parts of brain, sugar uniquely goes straight to the pleasure and reward pathways, just like other addictive substances.

Sugar occupies a special place in our culture. It has been presented as a treat for a job well done since child­hood, and it easily becomes synony­mous with love and comfort in times of stress. And it’s all but unavoid­able. Seventy-five percent of pack­aged foods marketed in the U.S. have some form of added sugar, meaning our addictions are fed with almost every food we purchase, revving up the cycle of craving and making us buy more and more sweets at every opportunity. The big food corpora­tions are banking on it because your unquenchable thirst for sugar earns them the sweetest treat of all: money.

Eating added sugar is a delight­ful part of being alive and abstaining from it totally is both unnecessary and impossible. If lots of sweetened snacks and drinks are a big part of your daily routine, a short detox might serve as an interesting ex­periment. Taking a week off of added sugar will reset your palate so you are more satisfied with less, and it might also help you look more critically at some of your more superfluous hab­its like soda drinking or candy eating. However, like any addiction, quitting leads to the possibility of withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irrita­bility. If you have a strong addiction and you know it, then this should be approached more carefully by slowly weaning your intake before pulling out the big guns and going cold tur­key. Sugar is in our lives whether we like it or not, so taking a step back to consider why it is so central can help you get out from under its thumb and actually enjoy it.