How Bad is Sugar Really?
Chapter 3 from my digital book “Sugar Brain”. Chapter 3 The Dopamine Effect Dopamine: an organic chemical of the catecholamine and phenethylamine families. It functions both as a hormone and a neurotransmitter, and plays several important roles in the brain and body. Let’s talk briefly about the science of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that carries information between neurons. It helps to regulate movement, attention, learning and emotion. It also allows us to feel and work toward reward. But what kind of reward are we talking? It would be anything that tells our bodies, “this feels good”. That can be in the form of words, sounds, food, drugs, alcohol, exercise and the list could go on. If you’ll notice, many of the items listed in that last sentence have been known to create addictions. There are 12 step programs for all of those things listed above. Dopamine certainly has a positive place in our lives. It drives us to do more and do better. But when we release it over and over again with the same trigger, that can mean that we are beginning to become addicted to that trigger. In my studies about how food affects the body, one of the most critical pieces of information I learned was this; when sugar or anything sweet, touches our tongue, it quickly sends a signal to the brain and releases dopamine. This dopamine tells our bodies that we are happy about what we’ve just eaten, and, in many cases, we want more. Take for example, my mother. She is Type 2 Diabetic and has Alzheimer’s. She’s so addicted to sweets she puts a packet of Stevia into her coffee grinds before brewing her coffee. Then adds stevia to her coffee after she pours her cup. While stevia won’t spike her insulin, imagine how sweet that coffee is with stevia being 10x the sweetness of sugar. Studies are coming out, what seems like weekly, about the food industry and how they knowingly add sugar to foods to help them become more addictive so they can sell more. I want to be angry at the food industry for being deceitful and willingly making people crave their food, but in reality, the more we educate ourselves, our families, and our kids the more we might be able to move forward into a world of less addiction and craving. I believe that was the case for me. I still have something sweet a few times a week (but usually not sweetened with sugar). I’m not cured of my desire for sweet treats. But the quality of my “sweets” are a thousand times better than they were before. I have a square of a piece of dark chocolate or a bite of something I made for a baking business I’m working on. All of my baked goods are cooked with a non-glycemic index rising sweetener. However, they are still sweet. This is the part people tend not to understand. So, let’s dive a little deeper. As mentioned before, when something sweet touches your tongue, it releases a dopamine. This doesn’t mean it needs to be sugar. It can be something that is sweetened with fruit or even a piece of fruit itself. It can be a glass of milk. It can be a “sugar free” syrup in your coffee. The brain doesn’t know the difference. All it knows is SWEET! And it craves more and more. What is the first thing that you eat or drink in the morning? If you’re adding a creamer or sugar to your coffee, you’re sending that signal to your brain first thing and likely, you’ll crave sweets or carbs all day. Carbohydrates are another secret agent of the sweets world. While they taste savory, they are foods that turn to sugar in our bodies rather quickly. Because we process carbs very fast, we don’t need to eat many or a lot of carbs to get that trigger for more food and/or the dessert reward. When I mention carbs here, I’m not referring to every carb out there. There are complex carbohydrates that may not cause a craving. But breads, cereals, pastas, crackers and many other foods on the market will turn to sugar quickly and could cause that reaction. If you’re reading all of this now and thinking to yourself, “Good grief. Where is the fun in food? How am I supposed to stop eating all the things I love? This woman is crazy and asking too much!”, then I doubt you’re alone. I do not doubt that some people will read this and be angry with me because I’m suggesting that you give up a lot. Our minds are programed to eat many, if not all of the things I mentioned and it can sound daunting or very overwhelming. And I’m quite sure that many people will put this book down and never look back. That’s fine. I will never expect everyone to feel as compelled to learn as I was. I’m not quite as educated as many of my mentors, yet, but let me just be very honest here. If you’re one of the people who resents me after reading this, I hope it’s because I’ve made you look in the mirror and see how what you are eating is harming you. Maybe it will, at least, get your wheels turning about how poor your diet is and what you can do to help yourself. If not, then I wish you all the best. I really do. If you are one of the people reading this book who wants to learn more and get that knowledge to help you reach a goal in life around food, then keep reading. It’s you I’m talking to now. The next chapter will be about diets and how NOT TO.