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Why sugar is so addicting and how you can remove it from your diet this year, according to an expert

Expert shares tips for breaking sugar addiction
Health expert shares tips for breaking sugar addiction in 2022 05:33

Whether you're attempting a "dry January" or setting a new diet or workout goal, breaking old habits in the new year can be hard. For those who are looking to cut out added sugars, they may actually be addressing an addiction.

"Physiologically, it's as addictive as cocaine — sugar is," author and health expert Susan Peirce Thompson told CBSN's Anne-Marie Green Wednesday. "So, people are literally trapped in a physiological addiction. The brain scans are very clear on that."

While health officials urge Americans to limit their sugar intake, Thompson argues that giving up the highly processed and refined chemical can be for some one of the hardest addictions to battle. 

When you consume sugar, it first hits the tastebuds, "which have direct connections to the addiction centers in the brain," Thompson said. Then, it enters the bloodstream, leading to an addicting spike in blood sugar and insulin levels.

The average American consumes more than 135 calories of added sugars each day, which exceeds the general amount recommended daily from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020-2025 national dietary guidelines. Consuming an excess of added sugars can contribute to health problems like obesity, type two diabetes and heart disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found

The country's major source of added sugars are typically found in products like sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, sweetened coffee and tea as well as candy, according to the USDA. 

Removing sugar from your diet, she said, can positively impact not only your physical but also your mental health. Sugar, like alcohol, is a depressant. After you eat it you may experience a temporary high, but then there comes a low.

"So if you want to lift your mood over the long-term, quitting sugar is one of the best ways to do it," Thompson said.

And replacing sugars with more vegetables can even alter a person's tastebuds within just two weeks.

"Foods that didn't used to taste sweet will start to taste incredibly sweet now that you have given up that sugar," Thompson said. 

Another reason it's so hard to change your diet? According to Thompson, society does not respect giving up sugar in the same way it respects giving up something like alcohol. "We have a society of food-pushers among us. We actually do," she said.

She recommended those who want to cut down on their sugar intake this year look for online communities and resources committed to doing the same.

"There are so many, tens and thousands of people giving up sugar, and you don't have to do it alone," she said. 

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