By Lauren Keuning
Sugar has always had a bad reputation in the nutritional world, but new findings on the correlation between sugar and addiction have brought controversy to the table.
In a 2013 article published in “The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics,” sugar’s addictive qualities and what they could mean for lawmakers are explored and new findings examined.
According to Ashley Gearhardt, one of the authors of the article, the traditional definition of addiction is based on the intensity of intoxication, severity of withdrawal symptoms and illegality of the substance. However, new definitions of addiction include an individual’s inability to reduce consumption, repeated use regardless of negative side effects and lack of consumption control.
“Attaching the label ‘addictive’ to a substance like sugar, which is necessary for human life, challenges widely held beliefs about addiction,” Gearhardt said. She said our understandings of sugar and addiction may be outdated because of the increase in sugar consumption and chronic diseases
Carolyn Rogan, nutrition adjunct faculty, said sugar is not a direct cause of addiction because everyone reacts to substances differently. However, she said she agrees that regular consumption can lead to addictive behaviors in the brain.
“If a person is consuming [sugar] regularly, then it actually triggers brain chemistry just like an addiction does,” Rogan said. “It activates the brain’s pleasure receptors, and drugs like morphine can do that and have the similar effect. That’s where some of that relationship is.”
Rogan said an addiction to sugar is similar to that of caffeine. She added that lab rat test subjects given sugar have regularly shown withdrawal symptoms when it is taken away.
The most strongly linked health risk to overconsumption of sugar is tooth decay, Rogan said. She said studies have shown sugar to promote fat-making qualities, and it can lead to heart disease depending on a person’s genetics.
Mildred Kelley, Brookhaven College nurse, said sugar sends messages to the brain that demonstrate addictive qualities. “There is a connection to the more sugar you eat, the more you want,” Kelley said.
Kelley said the best way to combat sugar addiction is to have substitutes or distractions in the diet and schedule, especially during times when food and drinks high in sugar are prevalent. Exercising, eating fruit or drinking water can help curb cravings, she said.
Isaac Paul, a student, said schools could do more to combat obesity by cutting down on sugary products available, especially at the lower levels of education. “Encouraging them to be healthy at a young age will definitely transcend to old age,” Paul said. “By the time they cross over to the next [stage in life, it] wouldn’t be so much of a problem.”
But not all students agree. Katie Zhou, a student, said it is OK to have products high in sugar on campus because she does not often buy them.
Kelley said the average sugar consumption for Americans is 19 teaspoons a day, equaling 285 calories. She said the recommended daily amount is roughly 6 teaspoons, or 100 calories, for women and 9 teaspoons, or 150 calories, for men.
Rogan said foods with natural sugars, such as fruits, have fiber and water that slow down sugar absorbing into the body. Rogan said the problem with food labeling systems is that natural and added sugars are categorized together, making it difficult to maintain a healthy intake of natural sugar.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are plans for new labels that will show distinctions of added sugar from the total amount of sugar in an item. Daily percent values, which are not currently labeled, will also be included.