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Sugar addiction may not be exactly the same as a heroin or alcohol addiction, but it can have some serious health consequences. What can you do to deal with a sugar addiction?

Added sugars — not the kinds that naturally appear in things like fruits and milk, but the kind found in anything from candy to donuts to tomato ketchup — are a big problem. If you are able to enjoy added sugars in moderation, it's not that bad. However, your average American scarfs down more than 22 grams of added sugar a day, amounting to a whopping 355 calories. Sugar can deal your health a lot of damage, by directly and directly contributing to things like obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, nutritional deficiencies, as well as cardiovascular disease.

You may not realize that nearly all processed foods are packed with added sugars, but it's true. Can sugar become addictive, though, in the same way as heroin or gambling?

Is sugar addiction real? A look at the scientific evidence

Plenty of studies done on animals have found that sugar can become addictive. Animals who are exposed to a lot of sugar can develop many of the behavioral changes associated with addiction, like craving, tolerance, withdrawal, binging, and alterations in the brain's reward system. 

There isn't, however, any conclusive evidence that sugar addiction is real in humans. Food addictions — the existence of which is also controversial but backed by more evidence — typically make you crave both sugary and fatty foods. One study revealed that people who stopped eating processed foods — which definitely contain sugar — went through a withdrawal process similar to what addicts who quit cigarettes, marijuana, or coffee experience:

  • The people who stopped eating processed food felt sad, irritated, down, and tired.
  • Some people experienced strong food cravings, including sugar cravings.
  • The withdrawal process is at its worst after two to five days. The physical symptoms subside after you're done with these most difficult days, but you might still have a mental battle on your hands.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as having some characteristics that your "extreme sweet tooth" might not. Addiction is a chronic disease of brain reward — the addict can't stop using or doing what they're addicted to, even if they really try, and even if it has significant or severe negative impacts on their life. Addictions also feature strong cravings, a high risk of relapse, and a strong preoccupation with the addictive substance or behavior.

Even though a sugar addiction may not be a "real addiction", eating way too much can definitely cause problems — and it may indeed be hard to stop. If you think you're having too much sugar and want to quit, here are a few steps that will help you with that.

How to wave your sugar 'addiction' goodbye

1. Set yourself up with a nutrition app to track just how much sugar you're getting

Look for a good nutrition app that suits you, and start keeping track of all the foods you eat. The data you gather may shock you, as many people really don't know what they're eating. You'll see what nutrients you're losing out on, how many calories you are getting from sugar, how much sugar you're eating, and much more. Seeing just how unhealthy your diet in one terrifying sheet might motivate you to change.

2. Replace added sugar with something else that is still nice

Your craving for added sugar may get really bad in the days after you first quit. You can try to replace the added sugar with something else that is tasty but also nutritious. Fruits, for instance. A banana, an apple, or a handful of blueberries may become your new best friends. Hint — they still contain sugars, just healthier ones. 

 3. Read nutritional labels, as sugar is in almost everything

Once you start reading the labels on the things you eat daily, you'll be surprised to see that almost all processed foods come with added sugars as sneaky, unwanted, little extras. When you think of sugary foods, chocolate, donuts, cake, ice-cream, and other candies most likely come to mind. However, added sugars are everywhere, in things like chutney, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and salad dressings. 

4. Quitting together is easier than quitting alone

Quitting sugar is hard with no one supporting you. Why not see if any of your friends or family members would also like to take the plunge and say no to added sugars? Doing something hard is usually easier together, not least because you can hold each other accountable and try out new sugar-free cake recipes that result in cakes you won't have to eat alone. 

5. Get enough fat and protein

Your body needs fats and protein to stay healthy. You can look for tasty foods that have lots of protein and fats. If you can't get enough natural protein, you can also try a protein shake. Nuts, avocados, cheese, fish, eggs and olives are all foods that offer healthy fats in tasty ways. You can get protein from foods like eggs, cheese, tuna, salmon, and tofu.

6. Overcome your sweet cravings with bitter foods

It's really hard to get rid of those pesky sweet cravings. You may really want to go ahead and eat lots and lots of sweet foods. However, you can get rid of those cravings by eating bitter foods. Your brain will receive positive signals  from the bitter foods that may keep your sweet cravings at bay. You can eat bitter foods like dandelions, citrus peel, cranberries, and other bitter herbs.

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