As we finish picking on the last brownies, homemade cookies and countless boxes of candy, popcorn and other sweet goodies we received for the holidays, or the "season of eating" as I like to call it, it is time to consider the effect of eating these "foods."
While sugar is a celebration and for some of us it's love, it is also dangerous. In recent studies and many that date back 40 years, it has been proven that sugar contributes to development of heart disease, fatty liver disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease and attention deficit disorders.
Sugar is addictive yet we cannot resist. It is addictive in the same way that drugs are and, unfortunately, the food industry is doing everything they can to keep us and our children hooked. Until a few hundred years ago, concentrated sugars were not part of the human diet. Today, added sugar is everywhere! It is used in at least 75 % of packaged foods in the United States. The average American consumes one half pound of sugar a day!! Compared to a few hundred years ago you can appreciate how much our environment has changed. Natural sugar sources like whole fruits and vegetables are not concentrated because they contain water, fiber and other phytonutrients. Processed sugar sources are unnaturally potent and quickly provide a big hit. When naturally whole foods are stripped of their water, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial components all that is left is pure, white, sugary crystals.
Compared to drugs developed through refinement processes which transform other plants like poppies and coca into heroin and cocaine, refined sugars also affect people's bodies and brains. In animal studies, sugar produces many of the symptoms used as criteria for substance abuse, for example, cravings, tolerance and withdrawal. Other drug-like properties of sugar include cross-sensitization, cross-tolerance, cross-dependence, reward, opioid effects and other neurochemical changes in the brain.
This is why I tell the parents of the children I treat who are on the autism spectrum or have autoimmune disorders that they are addicted to carbohydrates. They have become addicted to the sugar and experience it as a drug. As a result of brain stimulation that effects serotonin and dopamine mechanisms, they crave the sugars in the same way drug addicted patients crave cocaine or heroin. Yet when this is discussed with patients the incredulous looks of disbelief are obvious to me.
Sugar is added by an industry whose goal is to engineer products to be irresistible and as addictive as possible.
So, how can we kick the habit? One step is to make foods and drinks with added sugars less obtainable through cost and higher taxes. Remove sugary beverages from school and regulate them like drugs, tobacco and alcohol by restricting advertising and making warning labels the rule on every product. One wonders how quickly this can happen in the face of lost profits to the manufacturers and stock holders. A better approach to "sugar rehab" is to promote consumption of whole, natural foods. Substituting whole foods for sweet industrial concoctions may be a hard sell, but in the face of an industry that exploits our biological nature to keep us addicted, it may be the best solution.