Aristocrats and the rich people back in the days have been using sugar as a status symbol. Can you imagine the more decayed the tooth, the richer you are. Reason being for this is because sugar was extremely expensive back in the days and it is hard to get. Thus, the high price. Food that is eaten by these people are also seasoned well while the poor would just have to curb their hunger with a piece of stale bread that is shared by few more people.
However, these days have shown a new trend where sugar has become an affordable item that could be found in the kitchen of every household. Not only in the household, sugar is also one of the most important ingredients in the food industry. In some states in Malaysia such as Kelantan, sugar is being used not only in beverages but also in the main dishes. Their main dishes would taste sweeter compared to dishes from other states. So when does the dependence of sugar start and how much sugar has been impacting the lives of some people until we cannot live without it? Continue reading to learn more about sugar addiction.
Sugar Consumption in Malaysia
According to a survey done by MANS in 2014, 55.9% of Malaysian adults are reported to consume sugar daily. Four teaspoons of sugar are often consumed each day in the form of added sugar in beverages including tea, coffee and milk(1). This amount of sugar does not include sugar contained in the dishes that are consumed throughout the day. For people with a daily calorie need of 2000 kcal, the Ministry of Health Malaysia has advised to take not more than 10 teaspoons which includes hidden sugars in foods and beverages. However, most people have been taking sugar more than the amount that is being suggested. Taking a lot of sugar more than the suggested amount will lead to health complications such as diabetes and obesity.
In Malaysia, the health complications related to the intake of sugar is at a very worrisome level. The prevalence of people diagnosed with these health complications have been increasing year after year (2). The dependency on sugar for some people is too strong, and this could be seen by the need to consume food and beverages with sugar everyday in order to function well. This could be called a sugar addiction.
Glucose which is known as simple sugar is a type of monosaccharide that is used by our body to give us energy. All the food that is being consumed will end up being broken down as simple sugar in our body. When these simple sugars are not being used, it will be converted into fats that will be stored in our body either at the organs or under the skin. When someone consumes sugar, there will be no broken down process as sugar is being consumed as its final form itself which is the glucose.
Consuming sugars will cause blood sugar to spike. Eating simple sugar is a big no for people with diabetes as it will cause hyperglycemia. For people with no diabetes, it can also create a temporary high feeling and spark of energy in the body. When someone consumes sugar, the brain reward system is activated and dopamine is released. Dopamine will release a feeling of pleasure that makes the person feel happy and want more of it (3). I mean, in these stressful times, facing traffic jams everyday after working hours, who wouldn't want to feel happy right? The need to feel temporary happiness is what makes some people become addicted to sugar. You are in pain from PMS? Eat chocolate. Are you feeling broken-hearted? Eat ice cream. Do you feel bored? Eat some cookies. Most of the solution for the problems is solved through the consumption of sugar makes this a bad habit in the long term.
According to studies done on rats, cutting out sugar totally can cause withdrawal symptoms like sadness and behavioural issues. Sugar is also more addictive than narcotic substances like cocaine. It has been discovered that eating sugar has a lot in common with drug-like side effects such bingeing, seeking, tolerance, withdrawal, dependence, and reward. When one tries to cut sugar out of diet, sugar withdrawal symptoms are observed. This condition is caused by a dopamine shortage in the brain. This could result in symptoms like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and possibly alter the brain's chemical balance to resemble that of depressed patients (4).
How to Control Sugar Addiction
If you are addicted to sugar, you need to take a deep breath and try to fight this one step at a time. If you try to fight the addiction abruptly, chances are that you won't succeed. Your body would only crave sugar more and more, and you will end up consuming sugar just as usual. The most important step is to eat a balanced diet that consists of wholesome food needed by your body like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, proteins and healthy fats. When your body receives enough essential nutrients and minerals, the craving will be easier to fight.
Control sugary food purchase
Even though there are lots of food options available on the market, you should restrain from purchasing food that contains high sugar. Food such as cereal, cookies and chocolate are some foods that are high in sugar so steer clear from them. Instead, try to opt for fruits to curb the craving.
Try natural sweeteners or non-caloric sweetener
Honey is a natural sweetener that could be an alternative for people that need to avoid taking sugar. Honey has a lower glycemic index which serves as a better alternative sweetener. Other than that, there are also non-caloric sweeteners such as stevia that are proven to not cause sugar spikes in the blood.
Read nutrition labels
When you are grocery shopping, please make it a habit to check for the nutrition labels. Every food that is available in the market do have nutrition labels that could help you to avoid sugar. Making a healthier choice would help you to finally be free of craving sugar.
Eat balanced meal at the right time
Craving occurs because of a lack of nutrients needed by the body. By giving your body the nutrients it needs, your body will thank you. Also, make sure to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the right times. This will prevent you from snacking food that is high in sugar. Try to take your meal with plain water and avoid sweet beverages.
Written by: Alia Adrina Asri
BSc (Hons) Nutrition
Love Earth Nutritionist