An Introduction to Overcoming Sugar (Part 1)

spoonful of sugar

There’s a reason why sugar tastes so good. The fact that our brains don’t know the difference between sugar and cocaine, says a lot. But comparing them is difficult because sugar is 8 times more addicting [1]. While many doubt the addicting properties of sugar, I have firsthand experience on its grip. And over the last several years of figuring out how to live a low-sugar lifestyle, I often get asked how to quit sugar.

Before we jump into how to overcome sugar cravings, keep in mind that even though this series is about sugar, our bodies see sugar and carbohydrates as the exact same substance [2]. So, addiction to sugar is very much the same as addiction to carbs.

We’ll revisit more about how sugar affects us in Part 2*, but for now, let’s first break down what it means to live in a sugar-addicted society and how we got here.

How Sugar Snuck into All of Our Lives

trojan horse

Back in the 1940s, a widespread low-fat movement started and its effects went full throttle by the 1980s. [3].

Many Americans subscribed to the ideology of low fat, even though there was no clear evidence that it prevented heart disease or promoted weight loss. Ironically, in the same decades that the low-fat approach assumed ideological status, Americans in the aggregate were getting fatter, leading to what many called an obesity epidemic. Nevertheless, the low-fat ideology had such a hold on Americans that skeptics were dismissed.

Oxford Academic

Its hold on us still lasts today.

The problem is, when fat was taken out of most foods, the food industry found it didn’t taste that good.

So, they set their eyes on sugar.

Sugar was perfect. It was super cheap, tasty, and addicting–which meant the stickiness of the product, literally, brought customers back for more. And since then, the majority of Americans have been hooked on a continuous sugar feeding frenzy.

How Sugar is Following Tobacco

over a dozen cigarette butts

There are many emerging speculations about how the sugar industry is following the tobacco industry’s addiction strategies.

The sugar industry was aware of evidence linking too much sugar to heart disease as early as the early 1960s. Its response was to embark on what a Sugar Research Foundation official called a “major program” to blame another culprit, namely fat.

San Francisco Chronicle

Part of those shared strategies is buying out scientists, confusing the public, and targeting children.

But what’s especially disturbing are the results of these tactics, most notably–the ones targeting kids.

School vending machines filled with candy, candy-centered holidays (Easter, Halloween, Christmas, etc.), and kids junk food marketed directly at them with their beloved characters pasted on.

These include:

  • Cereal
  • Sugary Yogurt
  • Soda
  • Popsicles
  • Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwiches
  • Toaster Pastries
  • Juice
  • Flavored Milk
  • Candy

When Did Our Views on Candy Change?

A photo of a car from the 1960s overlooking a city

Over half a century ago, before the low-fat charade, candy was seen as a treat, not an everyday food. And the quality of the ingredients was vastly different.

When food manufacturers started taking the fat out of products, not only was the taste affected, but the products ended up spoiling faster. This is because fat is a known ancient and natural preservative [4]. The reduction of fat meant that along with sugar, preservatives and additives were also needed to stabilize the shelf life, structure, and taste of the products.

In short, because sweets used to be made with more fat, they weren’t as addicting and were made with higher quality ingredients.

On top of this, over the past few decades, fruit juice and sugary fruits became the norm for breakfasts and snacks. Already energetic kids would get a large dose of sugar in the morning, and not much else, only to crash a few hours later.

What Does This All Mean?

The point is, this sugar filled-world was our life. And it still is.

Not coincidentally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave sugar a pass for decades. And Americans struggled to stick with low-fat diets throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Americans’ per capita consumption of sugar skyrocketed. Obesity rates grew.

SF Chronicle

Even those who have a good handle on resisting sugar and carbs still are faced with daily major marketing efforts and sugary products. It’s no coincidence that after the sugar industry’s efforts in the past half-century, overweight and obesity rates also escalated. Reversing the damage and quitting sugar can be challenging, but fortunately, there are ways to guide ourselves out of the sugar pen and take control of our health again.


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