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Dr. Oz & Dr. Roizen: "Sugar Is a Drug"

The brain responds to sugar the way it does to cocaine. Are you on the road to addiction?

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Sugar is a Drug

When a person does cocaine it creates a surge of pleasure molecules in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, or decreases their inactivation. Stay with us, here. It both creates a rush of molecules and blocks their degradation—two things that boost their effects. These cause a pleasure rush in you, at least until your brain receptors get used to it. Many get addicted to this rush and seek out the drug whenever, wherever they can. You would then seek more to overcome your brain receptors getting to use to the rush. Cocaine is not the only substance that does this. And, no, we’re not talking about other hard drugs. We’re talking about something you’ve probably put into your body already today: simple sugars and their equivalent, simple or added syrups.

QUIZ: Do You Have a Healthy Relationship with Food?

Eating sugar makes you feel good by stimulating the release of serotonin and dopamine in your brain and the reduction in their degradation. But when it wears off, you crash and may go on the hunt for another sweet fix—your brain’s receptors demand more. Sound familiar? 

Not everyone has an insatiable sweet tooth, and scientists are studying animal models to determine what makes some people more susceptible to sugar addiction. They believe that a tendency toward getting hooked on the sweet stuff could help explain why obesity is on the rise worldwide. With snack cakes, candy bars, sodas and cookies constantly at our fingertips, we can all benefit from being aware of the slippery high-fructose-corn-syrup-slicked slope.

Here are three ways to monitor and control your sugar intake:

MORE: How to Outsmart Your Eating Instincts

1. Avoid Processed (White) Sugars
Simple sugars, like the ones in cake, packaged foods, white bread and soda, are taken up very quickly in your body. Cue sugar high, sugar crash and cravings for more sugar. Not only do they perpetuate the cycle of gotta have it, they also do direct damage to the proteins that serve as grout between the cells lining your arteries, lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, and accelerate the wrinkling and sagging of aging skin.

2. Try Different Desserts
We’re a society programmed to end our meals with something sweet. Try to break the dessert habit by trying something other than a pie or a bowl of ice cream. Why not do what many Europeans do and have salad as the last thing you eat, or cap off dinner with an ounce of walnuts covered with blackberries? Revel in the natural sweetness of strawberries, or treat a glass of wine as your dessert.

MORE: How Sugar Ruins Your Skin

3. Pay More Attention to Your Food
One key to cutting back on sugar is being aware of how much sugar you eat in the first place. Check the nutrition facts on foods you enjoy every day; you might be surprised how much added sugar is lurking in seemingly healthy foods, such as nonfat fruit yogurt and barbeque sauce. (We wrote about eight common culprits in a recent column. Read it here.) Never snack right out of the bag or box, because that makes it nearly impossible to track how much you’ve eaten. Portion out one serving into a small bowl, then put the package away. Not only will you eat less, you’ll also appreciate and enjoy it more.

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