Why We Are All Genetically Hardwired To Be Sugar Junkies

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Think the title of this post is for the shock factor and only intended to make an impact? Then consider this… The average Brit consumes around 70kg of sugar a year, that’s about the same weight as an average adult male, well at least it was until we all got hooked on the sweet stuff (avg. weight is now 83.6kg to be exact)!

Granted the average height has also increased from 5’8’’ to 5’9’’, but the truth is our weight is going up thanks to our calorie intake being disproportionate to our activity levels and physiology. One of the ways that we can reduce total calories is to cut down our total ‘free sugar’ intake.

In case you haven’t heard the term, ‘free sugar’ is what the governing body SACN has given to any sugars added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and other sugars such as honey, syrups or unsweetened fruit juices. This term basically refers to any form of sugar other than fruit, vegetables, starchy carbohydrates and milk. This doesn’t mean to say we have to cut out the likes of honey, but we should certainly be limiting it.

So we understand that free sugar intake has to come down, BUT what SACN and all the other advisory committees fail to address is the seemingly uncontrollable need to devour copious amounts of empty calorie, high energy sugar! We know we need to cut it down, we get that it is comprising a too bigger proportion of our daily calories, but where we fall short is how exactly we go about implementing these recommendations.

Sugar is thought to be 8 times more addictive than cocaine, with some of the most troublesome sources including sugar-sweetened drinks (fizzy pop, fruit juice, energy drinks, squashes and cordials), cereals including sweetened breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes and pastries. Oh and of course confectionary and table sugar!

 

The problem we have is that we are hardwired genetically to want sugar. Sugar is energy to the brain, and we all know your brain calls the shots, so naturally the consumption of sugar makes you feel good because it’s satisfying your brain. Your brain likes sugar so much that it actually rewards us for consuming it via a surge in the hormone dopamine. Reward quickly converts to pleasure meaning we want more and more sugar to replicate the feeling.

Unfortunately the rapidly absorbed highly refined sugars cause such a dramatic spike in energy and dopamine that we become dependent on it, similar to the way cocaine takes over hormonal pathways via an unprecedented surge of dopamine! For this reason, refined or ‘free sugar’ is now considered a ‘superstimuli’ i.e. an abnormally strong stimulus that is able to hijack your ordinary behavioural pattern.

Our brains are right to view ‘sweet’ as good. Evolution saw fruit as the primary sweet stimulus, which is nutrient dense, so consequently we became hardwired to reward such behaviour. The problem we have is that the more we eat ‘free sugar’ the greater the urge is to continue having it!

We need to get off of that train, and we need to do it NOW.

Reference

Public Health England, (2015). Why 5%. Retrieved 20th January, 2015, from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/489906/Why_5__-_The_Science_Behind_SACN.pdf

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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