In one year, the average American will consume over 45 pounds of sugar. That’s enough sugar to fill a wheel barrow. In addition to that type of sugar (sucrose), the average American will consume another 4 gallons of added sugar (high fructose corn syrup) in a year. The bulk of the added sugar comes in the form of soft drinks and sodas.
It comes as no surprise that many Americans have a difficult time cutting sugars from their diets. There are a variety of reasons, both physical and emotional, as to why we reach for the sweet stuff. Cravings for sugar have a lot do with the way the body manages the sugar levels in the bloodstream. When we eat simple carbohydrates, like a sugary snack or a soft drink, it raises the blood sugar almost as quickly as an injection of sugar straight into the veins. In response, the pancreas releases large amounts of the hormone insulin. Insulin triggers cells throughout the body to pull the excess glucose out of the bloodstream and store it for use at a later time.
This exaggerated effort to remove glucose can lead to a functional hypoglycemia – a condition in which blood sugar levels are too low. Now with the glucose removed, the excess insulin in the bloodstream leads to craving more sugar which then exacerbates the condition and continues the cycle. Repeatedly overloading the bloodstream with sugar can reduce the body’s ability to respond to insulin, called insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition.
Sugar cravings and an appetite for sweet things could be hardwired into our brains. As newborns, our first food is lactose – milk sugar. It is the taste that we prefer from the moment we are born. Carbohydrates, including simple sugars, stimulate the release of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for making humans feel happy. Sugar also stimulates the release of endorphins. Endorphins are a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system that have a number of functions.
One of those functions is to activate the body’s opiate receptors and induce a pain-killing and relaxing effect. There are some researchers who believe that this particular reaction to sugar is similar to an addiction to cocaine or heroin. It has a numbing effect on the body. On top of all that, sugary foods just taste good and we tend to reward ourselves with treats. This reward system makes us crave sweet foods even more and is difficult to overcome. The end-results of this cycle of craving and eating and craving and eating are decreasing the body’s ability to process glucose and insulin efficiently, which could ultimately lead to diabetes, weight gain and a great deal of stress. So what can we do?
There are a few simple steps that people can incorporate into their daily lives to help control those cravings: