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Can a Drug Help You Cut Out Sugar for Good?

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You try not to think about cookies and candy, but you look forward to that sugar fix all day long. It seems impossible to ditch that sugar urge sometimes. If it feels like an addiction, it should be treatable, right?

New research suggests that drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could also help treat sugar cravings. Don't head for the doctor just yet— it could be some time before the FDA approves it (the study was with animals). The good news is, this study sheds some light on why you struggle with trying to eat less sugar.

Your sugar obsession isn't about willpower. Sugar raises levels of dopamine in the brain, activating its pleasure and reward centers in a similar way to addictive drugs like nicotine, cocaine and morphine. Just like drugs, every sugar high will never be as good as the first. Continuing to give in to sugar cravings actually lowers dopamine levels, so you have to eat more sugar to get the same blissful feeling.

The researchers also found that the rats in the study reacted to artificial sweeteners the same way as sugar... so even "diet" artificially-sweetened foods can make it tough to kick the habit. Empty calories in added sugars can lead to weight gain, which ups the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Artificial sweeteners may also increase your weight by feeding your need for sweet foods and messing with the good bacteria in your digestive system. No thanks!

So what can you do to fix your sugar addiction in the meantime?

1. Check labels for added sugars

Added sugars lurk in unexpected places: salad dressings, bread, spaghetti sauce and more! Check out ingredient lists on your condiments, sauces—basically everything you put in your grocery cart. If the ingredients include anything ending in "ose" such as glucose or fructose, anything called "syrup", anything with the word "malt" in it, it's a red flag. Also, look out for foods trying to use honey or molasses as "natural" sugars. It's all the same when it comes to sugar addiction.

2. Choose whole foods that are naturally sweet

Fruit has naturally-occurring sugar but also includes sugar-slowing fiber and plenty of antioxidants. Do your body good by having a piece of fruit or some frozen grapes or mango chunks to stop a sugar craving in its tracks. One of my fave desserts is my Mango Froyo made from frozen mango and Greek yogurt. Better than anything you'll get in a tub!

3. Don't cut all carbs

Many of my clients come to me confused about carbs. They've heard this flawed logic: "Sugar is bad. Carbs turn into sugar. So all carbs are bad."

Sorry, cutting carbs out of your diet will only make cravings worse. Choose slow carbs like quinoa, wild rice, steel cut oats and other whole grains and enjoy starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash. They'll provide you with slow, steady energy, boost serotonin levels in your brain to keep you happy (not hangry), and let the protein you eat be used for repairing lean muscle rather than using it for energy. What's not to love?

Where do you fall on the spectrum of someone with a "sweet tooth" to a full-blown sugar addict? Try my 1-week sugar detox meal plan to help you kick that habit to the curb!

 

Christy Brissette, RD

Christy Brissette is one of North America’s top dietitians and a leading nutrition and food communications expert. She is the President of 80 Twenty Nutrition, a nutrition and food media company and private practice. Her mission? To end food confusion and dieting once and for all.  More →

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