Are we all addicts?

Are we all addicts?

Sugar

WHEN we think of addiction, we often think of substance abuse. This may include drugs, alcohol or even cigarettes. But what if I told you that we were all addicts but to a different substance: something that we are constantly surrounded with in our daily lives, and which is eight times more addictive than cocaine? Sugar.

Take your own personal experience as an example. You have had your dinner and are quite satisfied, even full, but then you are introduced to the dessert table. What do you do? You will probably end up having a piece of cake. If you don’t, you will at least be tempted. Why is that? Are we unable to control our cravings?

Studies show that our brain lights up with sugar just as it does with cocaine and heroin. According to a study conducted by Princeton University over a 15-day period, 40 out of 43 cocaine-addicted lab mice chose sugar water over cocaine.

Other studies show that lab rats experienced withdrawal symptoms when sugar was taken away from them, similar to those experienced by drug, alcohol, or nicotine dependent individuals. Most people on a diet experience similar withdrawals and end up having even stronger cravings.

The WHO estimated in 2010 that 28 percent of adult males and 44 percent of adult females were obese in Saudi Arabia. Not only that, but the number of children with type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically. How did this happen? Is it simply a lack of exercise? Lack of movement does play a role. However, this problem goes much deeper. It is one that starts from early childhood, even infancy.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee, sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calories. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily allowance of 6 to 9 teaspoons of added sugar. Most of us exceed this recommendation.

According to Dr. Robert Lusting, a professor of Pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco, “Sugar is poison. It is a chronic dose dependent (there’s a safe threshold) hepato “liver” toxin”. Sugar is processed in the liver, but once the liver is overloaded the pancreas comes to the rescue by producing excess amounts of insulin, which turns sugar into fat. Not only does it make you fat, but sugar contributes to metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, heart problems, strokes and cancer.

The problem is that sugar is not just in sweets, candy bars and cake. It is everywhere and hides under many names: sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, lactose, corn-syrup! Let us take a look at the products that are being offered to us in restaurants and supermarkets: cheeseburgers, fries, sodas, ketchup, cereals, pasta sauces, salad dressings, potato products, white bread, white rice, and low fat and fat-free diet bars. Sugar can be found in every single one of these products. Even some baby formulas, such as lactose free ones, substitute with sugar. Artificial sweeteners also trigger hormonal responses that produce more insulin, and make you crave more. Even though your stomach is full, your brain is telling you that you are hungry.

How much sugar intake do you think you have per day? A bowl of cereal (with no extra added sugar) can have up to 3 teaspoons of sugar, an orange juice 5.5 teaspoons, pasta 0.25 teaspoons, pasta sauce 1.75 teaspoons and one soda consists of 9.75 teaspoons of sugar. That means that you have exceeded the daily-recommended allowance and you haven’t even had dinner yet. By eating the way we do, are we really giving ourselves a fair chance at staying slim and healthy? To burn just one 20oz. can of Coke, you would need to bike for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Do we really have that much time to spare during the day? Instead of having a glass of orange juice, why not have a piece of fruit? The fibers in fruit mitigate the negative effects of sugar and your body is able to digest it better. Instead of having white bread, why not brown? By recognizing that sugar really is an addictive substance and by making healthier food choices, we may just save ourselves and our children from the diseases brought about by this sweet poison.

Alanoud Alhejailan

(The author, a University of London LLB (honors) graduate, is a legal consultant in corporate and commercial law in Jeddah.)