The Science Of Sugar

scientific foundation behind the common advice to “cut out sweets”, when looking for optimal health and maximum fat loss, is frequently overlooked. For example, did you know that the more sugar you have, the more you come to crave it?

Is Sugar Addictive?

How about the fact that eating sweet foods causes a change in brain chemistry, and alterations in the mesolimbic dopamine pathway? The science behind sucrose paints these foods in a pretty negative light, and the process behind sweet foods being ingested is actually astonishingly complicated.

Other vices, like gaming, shopping, cocaine, heroin, and booze – and why they are so addictive – are all equally supported by prominent science. But sugar and food addiction continue to be questioned in the scientific community – even though the people of our world have never been fatter than they are right now.

For more information on sugar, we recommend this book.

Are Man-Made Sweeteners Healthier?

Often, due to our obesity pandemic, we see consumers turn to artificial sweeteners. And though these may not be bad as methadone, when it comes to getting away from the pure stuff, these substitutes still have a tendency to result in fat gain, not weight reduction.

There are a large amount of reasons to not ingest artificial sweeteners or sucrose. The body will react with a dependence on food that is more sweet, if you consume sweet foods or beverages, which results in the missing of foods that will likely have more vitamins, and provide more satiety.

What About Fructose?

One of the major issues with sugary foods, is that they often are very high in fructose. However, what most people do not realize, is that fructose is almost identical to booze, in terms of social function, neuronal and hedonic reaction, and the biochemistry of how it is processed.

When it comes to artificial sweeteners, their molecular construction is not uninteresting. These man-made creations have existed for a little over one hundred years, but we still know very little about how our genome reacts to them – at least in the long run.

For more information on fructose, we recommend this book.

Cognitive Effects Of Anything Sweet

The number of products using artificial substitutes has grown significantly, from 300 in 1998, to over 2,000 in 2010. However, what most don’t realize, is that the pure stuff activates human flavor nerve pathways much differently than artificial creations.

For example, pure sugar elicts a more powerful brain reaction in the following areas: the frontal operculum, the anterior insula, the striatum and the anterior cingulate. The dopaminergic midbrain regions additionally react to the sweet taste of the white stuff.

Your brain can tell the distinction between man-made sweeteners and pure sweetness, but does that imply that these substitutes are better for us? The answer: no.

For more on our brain’s relationship with food, we recommend this book.

The connection between obesity and artificial sweetener consumption is a fascinating one. Logically, you would think that non nutritive sweeteners would be a much better choice.

However, science says otherwise. If we look to the literature, we see alterations in the processing of sweet flavors, in people who frequently consume diet soda (which is loaded with artificial substitutes). The more alterations seen in the brain, the more diet soft drinks need to be consumed, to achieve the same level of pleasure.

The Verdict

Addictive drugs cause increases in extracellular dopamine production, inside the pleasure center of the brain: the nucleus accumbens. However, binging on sucrose also releases dopamine – much in the same fashion.

Long-term, high sucrose ingestion is responded to by the brain, with a change in its own dopamine receptors. The sugar-to-opiate similarities even work on a genetic level, which is truly fascinating (and a little bit scary)!

In closing, it’s best to avoid anything sweet – whether artificial or pure – if you really want to curb your addiction, lose weight, and stay healthy.

For a comprehensive look at how our food is sweetened (for profits) – we recommend this book.