There’s a good chance you’ve heard sugar described as “addictive” at least once or twice before. But what does that really mean? Can you really be addicted to a substance that’s found everywhere, and that we all consume in some form every single day — can we really beat sugar addiction? The hard truth is that it is more prevalent than you may think. In fact, you may be a sugar addict and not even know it.
So many of us are living our lives on a sugar rollercoaster, relying on quick hits of sugar to get through the day. That’s why this week, as we head into Halloweeen and the holiday season — which will no-doubt be full of sweet temptations — I wanted to dive into sugar addiction, what it is, and how you beat it without feeling like you’re dieting.
What is a sugar addiction?
As a society, we’ve normalized our consumption of sugar, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful or addictive.
You see, sugar releases opioids and dopamine in the brain, which are two of our main “feel good” chemicals. This leads to the feelings of bliss, calm, and satisfaction many of us experience when we eat sugar.
Unfortunately, just like the moon, sugar also has a dark side. The activation of these brain chemicals means that when sugar levels plummet, it can also lead to more cravings, withdrawals, and bingeing. An often-quoted study out of France showed that sugar’s effects on the reward centers in the brain are even more dramatic than those of cocaine. So, when you hear the words, “Sugar is more addictive than cocaine” — that’s not actually an exaggeration. Pretty wild, isn’t it?
Even more concerning than the addictive properties of sugar is the sheer quantity of sugar that we eat.
Americans get about 10 percent of their daily calories exclusively from sugar, and it adds up over time. Let’s look at the numbers.
Americans eat about:
- 152 pounds of added sugar each year
- 3 pounds of added sugar each week
- 13 teaspoons of added sugar each day
If you eat this much sugar, it causes changes to your gut microbiome that, ironically, make it difficult to eat less sugar. Sugar-eating bacteria (and yeast) start to grow out of control because of all the food available to them, and then when you try to cut out sugar, those bugs start to die and cause cravings, moodiness, and many other symptoms you may attribute to having a “bad day.” In other words, your gut bugs hijack your brain and start telling YOU what to eat!
How to know if you have a sugar addiction?
“How do I know if I’m addicted to sugar?”
Does sugar rule your life?
But here’s where things get really complicated. You’re probably not even aware of all the sources of sugar in your life right now. Sugar is hiding everywhere, including in foods otherwise thought of as “healthy.”
Hidden sources of sugar you might be consuming but you don’t know about
1. Bread, Pasta, and Crackers
It might not seem like these foods are sources of sugar, but sugar and refined carbohydrates are essentially the same thing. Even if you don’t eat sugar in its pure form, if you’re eating pasta, white bread, crackers, or cereal, you are spiking your blood sugar in an unhealthy way. In fact, eating a slice of white bread is the equivalent of 2 teaspoons or 8 grams of sugar.
Cow’s milk is meant to feed and fatten little cows. It’s not really meant for human consumption. This is because it contains lactose, which is a form of sugar. In fact, did you know 1 cup of milk contains 7 grams of sugar? Yeah, that’s a lot!! But just because you opt for non-dairy almond, cashew or oat milk doesn’t mean you’re escaping sugar completely. Some brands of almond or oat milk contain upwards of 10 grams of added sugar per cup, which can really add up if you’re drinking it every day. Read the label, and look for non-dairy milks with “no added sugar” or “unsweetened” on the label.
You may have heard that wine (especially red wine) is healthy because it contains powerful antioxidants, like resveratrol, which fend off disease. Unfortunately, wine also contains high amounts of sugar that will likely undo any of the benefits of the antioxidants. If you’re going to have a drink, I recommend consuming alcohol in moderation and choosing the lowest-sugar options, like tequila or vodka, mixed with sparkling water, ice, and lemon or lime. You can also have a wine spritzer instead, by combining ¾ cup wine with ¼ cup club soda and ice.
4. Granola Bars
This category of hidden sugars is especially dangerous, because they’re often masquerading as “healthy.” The truth is a single granola bar often contains more than 12 grams of sugar, and unless you’re really using them to replace a meal on-the-go, they just add to your daily intake of calories and sugar. My advice? Stick to real meals, or look for a snack bar with less than 5 grams of sugar. In its place, you can also eat a handful of nuts. Or better yet, make your own granola at home so you can control how much sugar is added.
5. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate can be a healthy food when eaten in moderation, but you have to be careful with your purchases. Many products are labeled “dark chocolate,” but when you look at the ingredients list, they still contain dairy and sugar. Instead, look for a dark chocolate with at least 80 percent cacao, without any added dairy and no more than 1 gram of sugar per serving.
If you want to know what other foods may be problematic for you, there’s a great test called Day Two that tests your gut for how you metabolize different foods, and gives you dietary recommendations specifically tailored to your gut microbiome.
How do you beat a sugar addiction?
When it comes to breast health, it’s important to take a holistic approach; one that involves proper screening, self-awareness, and of course, a healthy diet and a Happy Gut.
By the way, if you’re worried about your breast health and hormone balance, we’re here to help. The HAPPY GUT® Reset is a quick detox to rebalance your gut microbiome and leverage the gut-breast connection to create hormone harmony in 7 days or less, without feeling like you’re starving.
5 Easy Steps to Beat Sugar Addiction
1. Start with healthy sweet swaps
2. Cut out the alcohol
If you want to beat sugar addiction, cutting out alcohol is usually one of the most important and necessary steps. For one, alcohol is sugar in and of itself. And for that reason, it puts your blood in the sugar rollercoaster. When your sugar levels come crashing down 30 – 60 min after a drink, you either crave more alcohol, or succumb to the late night munchies. Alcohol can also affect your judgement, so you may end up binging on sugar (or crackers or chips) after a few drinks. I recommend cutting alcohol out completely, at least in the beginning, until you get your sugar cravings under control.
3. Make your own dessert
Beating sugar addiction doesn’t mean NEVER having dessert again. You can still enjoy the occasional sweet treat! But, to keep yourself from falling back on the sugar bandwagon, I recommend making your sweets at home. Instead of refined sugar, try out on of my favorite sugar substitutes — allulose — in your recipes. A 2010 study showed that allulose led to lower blood sugar levels after a meal and had beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity. Plus, you can replace sugar with it at a 1:1 ratio in many recipes, which keeps things simple.
4. Meditate instead of self-medicate [with sugar]
Many of us turn to sugar in stressful moments. Instead, have another go-to strategy at the tip of your fingers that doesn’t involve reaching into the snack drawer. What’s my favorite? I love meditation as a way to manage any difficult emotions, like stress or feeling overwhelmed, that might threaten to derail my healthy choices. Check out my video on the effects of meditation on the microbiome.
As we’ve learned throughout this article, beating a sugar addiction isn’t just about cutting out sugar, you also have to correct underlying health imbalances — such as gut dysbiosis and the blood sugar rollercoaster — that make you crave sugar in the first place! The best way to do that is with a detox, like my HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7-DAY DETOX. It will help you jumpstart your body’s detoxification systems to beat the bloat, gain energy, clear mental fog, balance hormones, and crush sugar addiction in as little as 7 days.
But don’t just take it from me! Here’s a note from Alessandra, who completed the detox last year.
“I decided to do this program back in the summer — it was easy to follow and I didn’t feel hungry at all! I loved the delicious shakes. My weight has dropped (15 pounds) and so did my sugar cravings. No need for coffee to boost energy and I love the increased mental clarity. I have followed this detox program twice now. Both times successfully. I suggest this program to anyone needing to take off the last 10 lbs or just a quick reset, it works!”