Being a Nutritional Therapist I often hear from my clients, that cutting back on sugar is one of the hardest dietary transitions they face. Even health conscious individuals, well aware of health risks associated with overconsumption of sugar and fully committed to change, find it a tough challenge. So what makes sugar so tempting? What drives us to seek out and choose sweet foods over healthier options time and time again?
As it turns out, our sweet tooth is evolutionary programmed. On the one hand, sweet foods are rarely poisonous, so sweet taste means the food is most likely safe to eat. On the other hand, sugar is easily converted into energy needed to hunt, flee or fight – clearly a survival benefit.
Sugar offers more than just energy. Fructose, a type of sugar naturally abundant in ripe fruits and wild honey, the only sweet foods available to our prehistoric ancestors, promotes fat deposition. At the times when food sources were scarce and unreliable, having a bit of extra fat was actually an advantage, rather than a handicap.
Fondness for sweetness is literally engraved in our brain. Sugar stimulates nucleus accumbens – an area of the brain responsible for motivation, pleasure and reward; the very same part of brain that plays a crucial role in addiction to drugs. Eating sweet foods triggers a release of dopamine (the so-called “feel good” neurotransmitter), which acts directly on nucleus accumbens and evokes the feelings of happiness and euphoria. Consequently, overindulgence in sugar creates a vicious cycle of addiction similar to that of drugs: eating sugar triggers desire for more, while abstinence causes withdrawal symptoms: headaches, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings and cravings.
So where does it leave us? We evolved to love sugar and this preference for sweetness has worked to our advantage for ages. However, now that sugar is omnipresent, having a natural sweet tooth has become a major disadvantage. The far-reaching health issues, associated with overloading diet with sugar are well researched and documented in medical literature and new links between sugar and disease are established each year.
In the next posts I will talk you through tried and tested strategies that can help to curb sugar cravings and successfully wean off it. Also stay tuned for delicious and healthy low sugar recipes.