"Sugar addiction": What's in a name?

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This is the first of several posts I’m planning as part of the “Blog-a-Thon To End Sugar Addiction,” which started Tuesday and ends on Monday, Halloween Day, perhaps America foremost sugar-driven holiday. 

I’ve often remarked that “food addiction” is a misnomer that does not serve the very real condition it describes, and I’d say the same thing for “sugar addiction.”

In the former case, the problem is that no one argues that all food is, or can be, addictive. And so, I’ve said, a more descriptive (which not to say “better”) — would be “some-food” addiction. I don’t know any two addicts whose list of problem foods is exactly the same, though it’s fair to say that processed foods are more likely to appear on many such lists, and refined sugar and refined grain (aka flour) are particularly likely.

And that leads to the latter case: For very few people does the term apply to all sugars, which occurs naturally in a number of forms, most commonly lactose, fructose, and sucrose. What I react to in unhealthy ways is refined sugar, in which processing has removed the fiber and other parts of the plant, concentrating what’s left into a crystalline white powder. 

It should not escape your attention that that description — “processing has removed the fiber and other parts of the plant, concentrating what’s left into a crystalline white powder” — also describes cocaine. With only slight variation, it also would describe heroin and flour; the main difference is which plant the processor starts with.

For me, the most pronounced effect when I ingest refined sugar is that I will crave more, and the intensity of the craving is usually connected to the intensity of the dose. If, say, I eat something that’s not sweet but does have refined sugar in the ingredients, I’ll probably escape further involvement, but if I dive headfirst into a half-gallon of chocolate chocolate chip, that’s likely to bring a different experience.

But I can experience other effects as well: a slight headache, an elevated heart rate, a patina of sweat, or even slight short-term memory loss that I’d describe more as discombobulation than anything else. In short, it can alter my state, and not pleasurably — at least not apart from the taste, texture, and temporarily pleasing sensation of fullness.

The fact that refined sugar has these altering effects is part of what helps me know that refined sugar can be addictive, and though my experience only pertains to myself, I don’t think it is addictive only to me. I’ll have more on this angle in my next post.

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