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Sugar is As Addictive As Cocaine, And More Pleasurable

Sugar is As Addictive As Cocaine, And More Pleasurable

I’ve tried quitting sugar. I’ve read all about how unhealthy it is and how my entire world would be a perkier place if I could kick the habit. But it’s not that easy.

When the L.A. Times reported on October 16th that sugar is as addictive as cocaine and morphine, I just nodded, scraping clean the bottom of a container of the Raw Ice Cream Company’s Cinnamon Vanilla. News to science, maybe, but not to me.

Professor Joseph Schroeder and his students at Connecticut College, who had the bad taste to experiment on rats, found that the poor little critters “formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment.”

Though I have no doubt this finding is accurate, the scientists’ method strikes me as a little weak. They put the rats in a maze (what is this fetish researchers have with putting small rodents in mazes?) and measured how long they spent on each of two sides. On one side they gave the animals Oreos. On the other side, they gave them rice cakes.

Rice cakes. Really? Wouldn’t the result have been more reliable if the rats were choosing between Oreos and another edible thing?

I’m not the only one who caught this flaw in the experimental design. Schroeder himself observed, “just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating rice cakes.”

As far as the drug comparison, the rats in that study got a maze with injections of cocaine or morphine on one side and shots of saline on the other. The furballs in the cookie study spent as much time in the Oreo corner as the ones in the drug study spent shooting up. Perhaps the real deduction is that rice cakes are as boring as salt water.

But there was other evidence that Oreos are not just addictive, but even more thrilling than hard drugs: they activate “more neurons in the brain’s ‘pleasure center,’” UPI reports.

Researcher Schroeder believes this explains why people eat foods that are high in sugar and fat even when they know those products are bad for them.

Tearing into a sleeve of Nutter Butter Bites, I nodded again. I know they are bad for me — check. I’m eating them anyway — check. Apparently I’m behaving like an opioid addict but there is no methadone equivalent for desserts. What to do?

Leave it to a Los Angeles-based newspaper to get right to the heart of the matter: cutting calories. In just the second sentence of the L.A. Times article about Schroeder’s experiment, the paper introduces a doctor who helps women kick the sugar habit. Dr. Timothy Morley says that step one is acknowledging the problem, but we all know this from 12-step meeting scenes in Hollywood movies. What’s next?

Things get trite from here with the usual diet advice: control portions and avoid food with sweeteners because they “can cause people to binge eat more often.” Since the question at hand is how to avoid food with sweeteners, this is not particularly helpful.

The final tidbit the Times and Morley offer is to find other things that activate my brain’s pleasure centers.

Now this could be fun.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock/iStock

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130 comments

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7:42PM PST on Jan 7, 2014

I'm sure everyone knows that sugary foods will give you a boost of energy and make you feel good for a short time. Everyone knows that too many sweets aren't good for you, puts fat on your body and after eating sweets you first have a high, then a drop in your blood sugar makes you feel tired or sick. Why on earth would a rat prefer a rice cake to sugary foods? Stupid!

6:17PM PST on Dec 3, 2013

ty

4:03AM PST on Nov 3, 2013

that truth is scary!!!!

1:02PM PDT on Oct 26, 2013

Tax sugar like cigarettes are taxed or else poor families will turn to feeding their kids cheap desserts instead of real food!

5:16PM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

Thank You! Good thing I don't like oreos but if you eat a lot of sugra you will tend to crave it. IF you eat a lot of artificial sweetners you will want to eat more.... If you eat a lot of carbs you tend to crave those also.

Try to not deprive yourself . Anything can be addictive.
I will say if you can avoid and get over the urge ,then you are OK!! If the urge continues ,then indulge because it's not going to go away.

2:30PM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

You can kick your sugar cravings with raisins ! They are filled with natural sugar-fructose which is very bio-available to the cells, with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Hemp seed hearts are also a natural high protein food that will reduce cravings. Try my home made granola !

4-5 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup coconut oil , olive oil - or hemp seed oil
1/4 cup honey
MIX with 2 knives ( sticky)
Bake on flat pan 30 minutes at 300 , stir after 15 minutes!
After cooking, add :
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup crushed or sliced or whole almonds
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup crushed walnuts
1 cup organic hemp seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds,
1 cup coconut shavings
I like to add organic oat cheerios for crunch.
1 cup raisins, & maybe dried cherries or craisins!

12:45PM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

I had to laugh when I read that the scientist discovered that "rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating rice cakes."
Who can blame the little critters...
I sometimes eat rice cakes but they soon lose their appeal. I allow myself some sweets and try to keep moderation.
I also like fruit but then they are apparently full of chemicals nowadays...can't win can I..

7:46AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

Mary, it was a mediocre student study, as the article points out. Many of us care about the topic.

8:21PM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

More wasted time, energy and money to reach conclusions nobody really cares about. Just pay these people to stay home and ask them to go around picking up trash, growing a garden, helping old people run errands and take care of their homes.

9:51AM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

Just don't get them confused.

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