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Sugar Addiction - Beyond Taste

Remarkably, even if you can't taste sweetness in your food, you can still become addicted to sugars. Tasting food used to govern what we eat as sweet, salty, savory flavors would tip us off that foods had nutrient qualities we needed to consume. And sour and bitter gave us cues to avoid toxic, rotten or poisonous food. Problem is, our food environment changed drastically, but our taste preferences didn’t. We now have more more sweet foods in our world than we could possibly eat (sugar everywhere to crave), and we’ve incorporated consuming sour and bitter things we’ve been designed to avoid (like lemon and coffee). And you know we usually pair these sour and bitter things with sweetness to make them taste better (lemonade and Frappuccinos).

Doped Up and Addicted Dopamine is a brain chemical involved in our perceptions of reward, and it’s involved in behaviors that have a cyclical reward-seeking component, such as gambling. When we get a hit of dopamine, we want more of whatever it is — blackjack, cocaine, retail therapy, roller coasters, working out — that inspired that dopamine in the first place. Some research studies have looked at the dopamine concentrations in the brains of mice after they got glucose (sugar) pumped directly into their stomachs, bypassing their taste buds. What they found is that glucose caused dopamine to more than DOUBLE in concentration in a particular part of the brain, even without the mice tasting anything sweet. It’s like getting a bucket of dopamine sloshed right in the face...and it's the beginning of an addiction. Mice can become addicted to sugar just like humans, and they don’t even need to taste sweetness.

Sugar Pushers A real world human comparison would be like someone putting glucose or something similar (hmmm, say high fructose corn syrup) in things you didn’t expect to have sugar in them, or that we don't really consider sweet to our tastebuds — such as ketchup, salad dressing, baked beans, pickles, barbecue sauce, tomato paste, canned soup, cereals, stuffings, crackers and even cough medicine. Then you wonder why you want to eat these things all the time, or why you now have a craving for donuts or barbecue wings.

It doesn’t end with simple sugars (sucrose, fructose, maltose). Simple carbohydrates would do the same thing, because the sweet taste is only part of the equation. After the excess glucose gets into your system, it’s the dopamine in your brain you want, as well.

Bottom line The reason you crave that cookie, cake, or sweet goes beyond what it tastes like. Sugar has major brain effects. Even though you might joke about your “sugar addiction”, that is exactly what it is. If you want to get past it, you need to treat it like an addiction:

  • Keep sugar out of your house.

  • Try to stay away from places that have sugar.

  • Stay away from fellow "addicts" and spend time with supportive people.

  • Really, going cold turkey, while it can be challenging, your cravings will decrease and things will get easier. 

  • It actually doesn’t work as well to phase out sugar slowly —because you’re still getting that hit.


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