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Sugar and Cocaine Are Similar And Why That’s Important To Your Health

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Here’s a scary fact: When scientists took MRI images of the brains of people consuming sugar vs. highly addictive drugs like cocaine, the same pleasure centers in the brain lit up. 

Sounds pretty, scary, doesn’t it? 

But what does it mean to your brain and your overall health? 

In this article, we explore sugar and why it can be an unknown addiction for many.

What is Sugar?


There are many different names that people use to refer to sugar. 

They are not all the same, so it can be confusing when trying to talk about sugar. 

Let’s try to clear up some of this confusion. 

To make things simple, the word “sugar” can refer to three different things. 

These things all fall under the carbohydrate umbrella.

So sugar is a carb.


When you are thinking about “blood sugar,” you might be thinking about glucose. 

Glucose is a sugar found in your blood and has a quicker impact on your body than the other sugars.

Glucose is one of the simple forms of carbohydrates. It is also your body’s preferred form of energy. [1]https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sucrose-glucose-fructose#what-are-they?

By simple, I mean that glucose cannot be broken down further and still be considered a carbohydrate. 

In foods, you usually find glucose used to build more complex carbs.

If your body doesn’t use its glucose immediately, it stores in a form called glycogen. 


Similar to glucose, fructose is a simple type of carbohydrate. 

You may also know fructose as the “fruit sugar” because it is found naturally in fruits, honey, and agave. 

The body’s response to fructose in the blood is slower than glucose. 

Your body cannot use fructose right away.

Our livers have to convert fructose into glucose before the body can use it. 

By consuming a lot of fructose-containing substances, you might be putting a burden on your liver. [2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4145298/

Out of the three types of sugars, fructose is the sweetest. 


The white substance that you put in your foods and call sugar is usually sucrose. 

Sucrose is a carbohydrate that is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. 

It is found naturally in vegetables, fruits, and grains. 

We also add it to foods like ice cream and candy. 

Every time you eat sucrose, you are getting glucose and fructose at the same time. 

Your body can’t use sucrose right away and has to break it down to those two sugars first. [3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4124338/

As you can see, sugar has different meanings depending on the context.

For the rest of this article, anytime I say sugar, I am talking about sucrose. 

Sugar As An Addiction


Sugar is truly addictive. 

It alters your brain chemistry so that over time you start to crave more and more sugar. 

The urge for your next sweet fix comes more frequently and you need to consume it in larger quantities. 

Sounds like any other addiction right?

I know that I have a sweet tooth at times. 

When you want something sweet, we turn to sugar. 

One of the biggest problems in our modern diets is that we tend to consume more sugar than we should. 

That’s why so many experts are now coming out with recommendations for us to lower our sugar intake. 

Like any other drug, sugar addiction comes with some pretty scary side effects. 

Not being able to fit into your favorite pair of jeans because your cookie addiction is going to be the least of your problems. 

Yes, there will be weight gain, but with it comes more serious effects.

High sugar consumption increases your risk of developing Type II Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of stroke. 

Add to that the extra stress the added weight puts on your joints and tendons and how much harder it is to get enough oxygen pumping through your body. 

It’s no wonder you feel crappy as you put on weight. 

All these various health conditions are referred to as metabolic syndrome and it’s just one of the things you can look forward to as you continue to feed your sugar addiction. 

But like with a cocaine addiction, harming your body and compromising your health doesn’t matter all that much when you’re faced with a box of donuts. 

That’s a serious problem. 

Why Sugar Can Be Bad


According to science, sugar does not contain essential nutrients that benefit our diets. 

Its only benefit is the sweetness it adds to our diets.

There aren’t any proteins, essential fats, vitamins, or minerals in sugar. [4]https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/natural-sugar-substitutes#section1

Your body breaks down sugar into glucose and fructose. 

In the presence of glucose, your body converts more fructose into fat for storage. 

This study found a link between sugar and obesity. [5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/15051594/

Other studies found a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. [6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/24493081/ , [7]https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01830725

What about that sweet tooth that we hear about so much?

This study reveals that sugar activates a similar response to addictive drugs. [8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174153/

People can be addicted to sugar, just like people can be addicted to drugs!

If you’re now worried about your sugar intake, one of the first things experts recommend you do to lower your input is to start reading labels. [9]https://www.byrdie.com/healthy-sugar-substitute 

You’ll be surprised at the things that are hiding sugar, even if they don’t taste sweet.

Sugar can be hiding in things such as cereals, salad dressings, and salsa. 

Sugar & Reading Nutrition Labels


Experts say that reading food labels is an effective way to keep your added sugar intake in check. 

Some companies may say that a product doesn’t contain sugar, but the ingredients of their product might include any of these things.

If you see these ingredients, know that the product contains sugar: [10]https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar

  • brown sugar
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • malt sugar
  • molasses
  • anything that ends with “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose) 

It’s important to know how to read the nutrition labels on the food packages that you buy.

Are You A Sugar Addict?


As with any highly addictive drug, there will be unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as you start to wean your body off of sugar. 

Don’t believe me? Give it a try. 

Cut out all added sugar for a couple of days. 

No more soda.

No more sugar in your coffee.

No candy.

No cookies.

No donuts. 

That’s just the beginning. 

You’ll also want to avoid all foods with added sugars like bread, most salad dressings, ketchup, etc. 

Cut all those foods out and don’t eat anything without checking the label for added sugars. 

See how you feel after a few hours. 

You might start with a little headache and then the big headaches will begin. 

You’ll start craving something sweet. We’re talking serious cravings. 

Next, that little headache will start to grow into a full-blown pounding head along with joint aches. 

You may also experience some nausea and don’t be surprised to experience mood swings, too. 

Some people will even have flu-like symptoms and start to shake a day into their sugar detox. 

Doesn’t that sound a lot like the withdrawal symptoms of a “serious” drug addiction? 

That’s because sugar addiction is just that. 

A serious addiction.

I Love Sugar. What Do I Do?

woman eating on cooking pan

What if you can let go of everything in the world except for that sweet fix?

What if you want to improve your health?

What do you do then?

Don’t worry. 

We have an article where you’ll learn some alternatives to sugar. 

This will make it easy to reduce your sugar intake. 

We also go over some precautions and things to keep in mind about each one. 

Key Takeaways & Next Steps

man sitting down with checklist

In this article, we talked about the dangers of sugar on our health and well-being:

  • Sugar can mean either glucose, fructose, or sucrose. When referring to table sugar, you likely talking about sucrose. 
  • Excess sugar intake can have negative consequences, such as increasing your risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. 
  • If you want to reduce your sugar intake, one way is learning how to read nutrition labels for the products you buy correctly. 

Hope you enjoyed this article and let me know your thoughts below.

If you want to know some alternatives to sugar, click the button below. 

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