I have met many self-proclaimed “sugar addicts,” but not one client has ever come to me for a “fat addiction.” There are self-help books for the sugar junkies but no market for fattty-food fiends. And proof mounts that the reward centers of our brains are directing food cravings.
Research funded by the National Institute of Health and published last month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tracked brain activity, via MRI scanning, of 106 high school students as they drank chocolate-flavored milkshakes that were identical in calories but either high in sugar and low in fat, or vice versa. Researchers found that the high-sugar shakes had a greater impact on reward centers in the brain when compared to the high-fat version.
More telling was that increasing the amount of sugar caused greater activity in the reward centers, while increasing fat content did not. Translation: The more sugar you eat the more you want. Research on babies has shown that we are born with a preference for sweets. The taste for fat is acquired.
Sugar is not heroin, but it is a real issue for those who feel “addicted.” The only crime committed in the pursuit of sugar is the potential damage to your health.
Some reformed “sugar junkies” say the only solution is to completely give up sugar. Others preach moderation. Whatever path one chooses, these steps will promote better health:
• Clear the house of high-sugar foods such as sodas, cookies and candy. Have fruit and nuts available for snacking.
• Start the day with a nutritious, protein-rich breakfast to stay fuller longer and avoid mid-morning cravings.
• If cravings hit during times of boredom, get up and get moving. Activity produces pleasurable endorphins.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.