The Problem with Sugar and Sweeteners, Natural and Non
Sugar and sweetners – even the natural ones – are low in or empty of nutrition, they’re high in calories, and they cause blood sugar levels to peak and crash. All of these factors can contribute to serious health problems. But the big problem with sugar and sweeteners is that the sweet taste is terribly addictive. For the same reasons that humans get hooked to technology, cocaine and nicotine, once you’ve boarded that train to the Pleasure Zone, it’s very hard to get off.
“Sweetness” in the Days of Our Ancestors
In the days of our ancestors, the sweet flavour of seasonal fruits and honey signaled to the brain that we’d found a nutrient dense source of energy. When we’ve received enough nutrients, the brain/body responds with the feeling of satiety. Consequently, it “turns off” the desire to keep eating. That’s why quality proteins and healthy fats are so satisfying.
But the sweet taste, unfortunately, activates a problematic physiological response. The brain reacts to sweetness with the chemical response of “pleasure-and-reward”. This circuitry is activated at birth when the newborn tastes the colostrum from the mother’s breast. The pleaure-and-reward chemicals energise the impulse to keep seeking food. Because of this it’s fundamental for our survival. The problem is that the pleasure-and-reward circuitry, with it’s power to manipulate our behaviour, remains active for the rest of our lives.
As we saw in the post, Technology, Dopamine and Addiction, our DNA is programmed to receive the pleaure-and-reward stimulus every now and again, not several times a day. Constant consumption results in chemical addiction. Remember how it works:
“Pleasure-and-reward” is caused by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine and the opioid receptors, endorphins. The combination of these makes us feel wonderful.
- Dopamine is released when we experience pleasure. It plays an important role in eating, sleeping and having sex.
- Endorphins are morphine-like molecules. They’re released to combat pain and create a feeling of euphoria.
Because of the interplay of these chemicals, when we eat something sweet, we receive a little bit of ecstasy. This was great for our ancestors. Sweetness, for them, was a rare treat. But it’s a tragedy for modern humans because sweet foods are now
- constantly available
- devoid of nutrients and
- their sweetness is way beyond anything of that found in nature
To be clear, we’re not just talking about candy and refined sugar here. How often, when we want a healthy treat, do we reach for a piece of fruit? But the fruit that we’re consuming these days is
- much bigger
- much more beautiful (therefore more tempting) and
- much sweeter
than the fruit that was available even a couple of generations ago. I’m not saying that fruit is unhealthy. Fresh fruit is full of nutrients. But we need to be aware of it’s fructose component, and how much of it we’re consuming. Are you really eating it for nutrition, or is it just a “healthy” way of feeding your Sugar Dragon?
Addiction and the Sugar Burner Cycle
The Sugar Dragon is hard to beat.
It thrives on the interplay between dopamine and the opiods. It goes wild when it doesn’t get it’s sugar fix. It’s dangerous, manipulative and enslaves us to it’s addiction.
- When our dopamine receptors become desensitized through constant consumption, they inhibit our ability to experience pleasure. We build up tolerance, which means we need more of the substance to receive the same sensation of euphoria.
- A constant release of endorphins causes the brain to think that euphoria is the normal state. The brain gets used to this wave of pleasure.
- Not having the “drug” in the system results in depression and anxiety. So, you really need those cookies, the sugar in your coffee, the sweet yogurt or the fizzy drink.
- The opiod receptors light up at the mere thought of something sweet: we’re craving it.
The Sugar Dragon wants a shot of sugar, and we’re manipulated into getting it. Healthy or unhealthy, white sugar, maple syrup, muscovado, stevia, honey, molasses, a banana, strawberries… It doesn’t matter. For the body/brain, it’s all sugar.
If you don’t comply, you’ll find you’re depressed, irritable and anxious. Of course, all this is amplified by the blood sugar peaks and lows caused by excess carbohydrate consumption. The issues that result, as you know, are not to be taken lightly.
Sugar addiction is a difficult habit to break. But for a healthy future, it really does need to be done.
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White sugar and raspberry Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash | Honeycomb Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash | Child with Candy Photo by Nagesh Badu on Unsplash | Sugar coated lips Photo by Fredrik Ivansson on Unsplash