Article Library

Is Sugar An Addiction?

Chocolate, cake, ice-cream and sweets… all of these sound extremely delicious, but what do these foods have in common? They are all very high in sugar. When we crave these kind of foods we often blame it on having a “sweet tooth” but could this in fact rather be a sugar addiction? Let’s take a look at what happens when we eat too much sugar too often.

Addiction can be defined as a situation where a person’s brain chemistry has been altered; this forces them to repeat using a substance or engage in the same activity regardless of the harmful consequences. (3) Addiction leads to many changes in brain chemistry which in effect lead to binging, craving, withdrawal and desensitisation. Evidence regarding sugar has shown that sugar stimulates the same pleasure centres of the brain such as heroin and cocaine, therefore sugar can be considered addictive. If you have tried cutting down on sugar, you may have seen how challenging this is, getting off sugar leads to the same effects that hard-core drugs would such as withdrawal and cravings. (4) Let’s take a deeper look at what happens.

1. Overstimulation Of The Reward System
When consuming sugar or foods containing sugar, signals are sent to our brain activating our reward-centre. The neuro-transmitter that gets released here is called dopamine and dopamine results in the feeling of pleasure. Another neurotransmitter which gets released is called serotonin, a boost of serotonin enhances ones mood. (4) The amount and regularity of eating sugar increases as people yearn for more and more pleasure resulting in changes in the dopamine system. These dopamine receptors seem to down regulate which means there are less of these receptors.(3) This therefore blunts the effect of sugar over time and in effect results in the need to consume more of these sugary foods to get the same pleasure or reward feeling as before.

2. The Not So Sweet Truth About Sugar
In the past sugar was consumed as a luxury item, now that sugar is readily available and relatively cheap, people are consuming more sugar than ever before. According to a study done by the Harvard School of Public Health, the average intake of added sugars by Americans is 22 teaspoons per day, (5) an increase of 19% when compared to previous intake data. The rise in sugar consumption may be linked to many negative consequences such as weight gain, increased risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other problems associated with high sugar intakes include headaches, tooth decay, a weakened immune system, skin problems, digestive problems and hormonal imbalances. (5)

3. What to Do?
When it comes to food, using the word addiction doesn’t seem fit, when being addicted to drugs or alcohol, you would be advised to completely stay away from it but with food this is different. Food is necessary for survival, cutting sugar out completely seems pretty unrealistic considering several foods including fruit and vegetables naturally contain sugar.

Cutting down on sugar and making better nutritional decisions is however very do-able. This can be done over a few weeks, for example if you used to drink 3 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, decrease this to 2 for a week, then 1 for a week and eventually aim to have coffee without sugar.

Research has shown that our taste buds can be altered. Bartolotto conducted a study where 20 people had to cut out all added sugars and artificial sweeteners for a period of two weeks. (6) The results showed that their tolerance for the sweet taste had completely changed. The following was reported:

  • 95% of the people reported that drinks and foods they used to consume now taste “sweeter”
  • After 2-3 days half of the people’s sweet cravings stopped
  • After 6 days 87% no longer felt the withdrawal effects. (6)

Cutting down on sugar and resetting your palate will not only help to decrease sugar cravings but will also enhance the flavours of foods.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting an added sugar intake to 12 teaspoons or 50g a day. Although we do not encourage eating this much, there is space to accommodate a daily allowance should you wish to. FUTURELIFE® HIGH ENERGY Smart Food™ contains a mere 1½ teaspoons per 50g which could easily fit into you daily allowance of sugar. If you wish to enjoy FUTURELIFE® with no added sugar then you can try FUTURELIFE® ZERO or FUTURELIFE® ZERO WITH OATS. Below is also a table showing the amount of sugar in various FUTURELIFE® products:


Sugar content per serving [all forms of sugar, natural (incl. lactose) and added]

1 teaspoon sugar 4 g
50g FUTURELIFE® HIGH ENERGY Smart Food™ 7.5 g (1½ tsp of sugar)
40g FUTURELIFE® ZERO 3.5g (zero added cane sugar)
40g FUTURELIFE® ZERO with OATS 0.8g (zero added cane sugar)
FUTURELIFE® High Protein LITE Smartbar 4.5g – 5.4g
50g FUTURELIFE® Smart Oats 7.6g (1.5 tsp of sugar)


So is sugar addiction a myth or reality? As research has suggested sugar can in fact be an addiction, it is therefore important to take the topic seriously. Cutting down on sugar will be challenging, but like the popular saying goes “nothing worth having comes easy.” Remember that this is a process and you are very able to do it. Stay positive and celebrate even your baby steps.


1. Macinnis P. Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar Group MP, editor.: Crows Nest; 2012.

2. O’Connell J. The Hidden Truth behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat It. NY , editor. New York: Hyperion; 2010.

3. Avena NM, Rada , Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2008 May; 1(32).

4. Lustig DRH, Gunnars. Authority Nutrition. [Online].; 2014 [cited 2016 August 10. Available from:

5. M. Zelman. The Real Truth about Sugar. [Online].; 2014 [cited 2016 August 08. Available from:

6. Bartolotto , Richards SE. Life. [Online].; 2015 [cited 2016 August 08. Available from:


1. Bartolotto , Richards SE. Life. [Online].; 2015 [cited 2016 August 08. Available from:

Get in touch