Is Sugar Addictive, and How Much Is Too Much?

It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of eating one more piece of chocolate, then another, and another. Because sugary treats like chocolate, cookies, and pop can be so difficult to consume in moderation, many people wonder if sugar is addictive. Here is what the latest research studies have to say on the subject.

Sugar and Dopamine

Many studies have found that sugar triggers the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for your brain’s reward system. Thus, every time you eat sugary foods, your brain rewards you with the release of this feel-good compound.

Dopamine is also the neurotransmitter that many drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana either mimic or cause to be released in large amounts. In this way, the sugar cravings that many people feel can be psychologically classified as an addiction similar to the ways in which the body reacts to recreational drug use.

While this isn’t to say that eating the occasional slice of cake is as serious as drug use, studies have shown that the addictive nature of sugar could be at least partially to blame for our significant overconsumption.

How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

According to the American Heart Association, adult men should not consume more than 36 grams of sugar per day, while the recommended daily limit for women is 25 grams.

Adults should aim to eat less than 150 calories of sugar per day.

To put this is perspective, one 12-ounce can of Coke® contains 39 grams of sugar, which is above the daily limit for both men and women. Thus, it’s easy to see how sugar consumption can easily get out of hand. In fact, the average American consumes 94 grams of sugar per day.

How to Reduce Sugar Intake

Reducing your sugar intake doesn’t have to mean avoiding the stuff altogether. What it does mean, however, is being more conscious of what you’re eating and how much.

There is a nutritional difference, for instance, between the natural sugar that comes from eating an apple and the sugar that’s packed into a chocolate chip cookie. If you’re only going to cut one, let it be the chocolate cookie.

Other ways to reduce how much sugar you’re eating in a day might include:

  • Avoid adding sugar to drinks like coffee and tea
  • Reduce or remove sugar from recipes you make yourself
  • Don’t keep sweets in the house
  • Substitute white sugar with applesauce, raisins, or cinnamon