Food for Thought: The Chemistry of Sugar

Today I purchased multiple bags of candy to pass out in a few days to eager trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood. Staring at the bags of candy on my counter I decided to open one piece and cure my craving. Bad idea. Three pieces later I am officially done and know that I have ruined my goal of cutting back on sugar intake. I’ve heard from healthy conscientious friends that giving up bread, fat, alcohol or even meat aren’t nearly as difficult as it is to truly give up sugar.

The Science of Sugar

Did you know that every time you eat sugar your brain releases dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that actually tells your brain it’s happy, therefore it really feels like treat to eat sugar. If a little is good then a lot is great right? Wrong. For some people the urge to feel rewarded can be compounded into an addiction issue causing  a person to want more to feed the craving and cutting back on sugar can actually leave your brain feeling the effects of withdrawal symptoms. Sugar also affects the release of serotonin which makes the brain feel happy, so when you stop eating sugar and your serotonin levels drop you can actually feel depressed. Yikes!

What about artificial sweeteners?

I recently read an article by the American Chemical Society concerning a protein calls brazzein that is 2000 x’s sweeter than sugar. Although brazzein hasn’t been approved by the FDA there are tons of other substitutes on the market. I can see the appeal of the no or low calorie sugar substitutes but doing a quick search online there is no shortage of articles concerning the ill effects that sugar substitutes also play on a person’s health.

So what is a person to do with the holidays around the corner?

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Just say no to all sugar! Just kidding. Completely avoiding sugar during holidays is almost impossible, after all tis the season for baking. Your best bet is to try and satisfy your sweet craving with a natural alternative like fruit or go ahead and indulge but in moderation. Plus if you completely binge on sugar then at least setting your new year goal will be easy.

If you’re interested in the chemistry of candy, checkout this great Infographic from Compound Interest: http://www.compoundchem.com/2014/10/21/chemistryofcandy/