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Is Sugar Your Drug?

Date Published 15.04.2016
Topic Lifestyle Insurance

Is Sugar Your Drug?

Sugar addiction has been compared to drug addiction. Is it the real cause of the obesity epidemic and does it cause cancer?

Are you about to reach for the last of the Easter eggs? Maybe read this first! According to a study published in the Lancet last week Ireland is on course to become one of the most obese countries in Europe with all the health complications that brings. Irish men already have the highest body mass index (BMI), a measurement of excess weight, in Europe and women the third. This is very worrying for a number of reasons, not least because of the links between being overweight and cancer.

The messages we get around what we should be eating are confusing. We often make decisions on what is considered healthy or unhealthy depending on the latest fad, study or expert opinion.


Sugar can be very dangerous!


Current health trends are influenced by the 'healthy lifestyle' industry. For a long time eggs were the bad guy that increased cholesterol levels leading to heart disease and stroke. We were all advised to avoid eggs, often opting instead for highly processed 'vitamin enriched' breakfast cereals that are high in sugar and calories. The medical advice has had a ‘change of heart’ and eggs are considered to be a healthy food.

The advice is out with eggs as the bad guys and all change to sugar which is now considered to be damaging our health

Free Vs Natural Sugars

Natural sugars: are naturally in products like fruit, vegetables and whole grains. They are an important part of nutrients and they provide our body with the fuel it needs to function properly.

Free sugars: are a fairly recent addition to our foods adopted by the food industry for commercial reasons. Varying amounts of refined sugar are added to processed foods to improve texture, taste and by extension sales.

Refined and artificial sugars have become a mainstay of the Western diet. Just take a peek at supermarket shelves and you will be confronted with a huge number of products challenging your health conscious intentions with their promises of being ‘low fat or diet’, or seducing your indulgent side with ‘just a little treat’.


Free sugars are the ones to avoid.


For years we have believed by following a healthy, low fat food plan and sticking to healthy ‘diet’ products we can satisfy our sweet tooth with a little treat every so often. Yet it seems that science has caught us out by finally exposing the real dangers of sugar; an addiction on par with that of drugs!

Sugar addiction

Overconsumption of sweet foods or drinks is initially motivated by the pleasure of the sweet taste and has been compared to drug addiction. Research with laboratory rats has shown that sugar and sweet foods can not only be a substitute for cocaine but can even be more rewarding and attractive. This could be the reason why many of us feel addicted to sweet foods.

A variety of studies have shown that the sweet taste in food and drink stimulate a dopamine signalling pathway critically involved in reward processing and learning, the same stimulation pattern that occurs with drugs of abuse. It has also been found in a variety of studies that both the tolerance and dependence that occurs with sugars, is similar to that observed with drugs such as morphine and cocaine.

All of this research has been backed up by studying neurological images in humans, which has led to the discovery of ‘neuroadaptations’ in the brain of obese individuals, mimicking those previously observed in individuals addicted to cocaine and other drugs of abuse.


Are you addicted to sugar?


Dangers of sugar rich diet

A sugar laden diet increases our risk of dying of heart disease. In a 15 year study the results of which were published in February 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, participants who took in 25% of their daily calories from added free sugars were twice as likely to die of heart disease as those whose diets consisted of 10% or less of added sugars. The results were not affected by the fact that the participants also ate fruit and vegetables. Sugar which has been dubbed 'the sweet poison' provides us with empty calories that contribute to obesity with all its risks including stroke and diabetes.

Does sugar cause cancer?

Does sugar cause cancer? There is a common misconception that sugar makes tumours grow faster. All cells depend on blood sugar for energy and this includes cancer cells, but a diet that is high in sugar does not necessarily lead to cancer. Sugar can lead to weight gain which can make us more susceptible to cancer but thankfully for all of us with a sweet tooth, the myth that sugar can cause cancer is not true.


Diabetes is the main issue tied into sugar


Hidden sugars

If you think that you are safe from the dire effects of sugar because you avoid sweets and have intentionally removed all sugar from your diet, you may want to think again because you could in fact be the unwitting consumer of sugar. If you are a type 2 diabetes sufferer or if you have high blood sugar levels this could have repercussions are far as your health is concerned.

According to the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) on average 15 per cent of the calories consumed by Irish adults came from sugar present in processed foods. The WHO recommend that less than 5% of our calories should come from sugar, so we have a lot of cutting down to do. Part of the problem can be hidden sugars that are found in foods we believe to be healthy.

What we need to watch out for is ‘hidden sugar’ that is the sometimes large amount of sugar added to the food we eat. For example, flavoured water contains 27.5g of sugar per 500ml. A well-known brand of 0% fat vanilla yoghurt contains 20.9g of sugar per 150g pot. Canned tomato soup, 14.9g per 300g portion and even sliced white bread contains sugar, 1.4g in one medium-sized slice. By way of comparison a can of coca cola contains 9 teaspoonfuls (35g) of sugar. If you make it a point to read the ingredients on the label of a product before you buy it, keep in mind that added sugar has many names, including but possibly not limited to:


  • Molasses
  • Sucrose
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Maltose
  • Corn syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Hydrolysed starch
  • Added juices

These hidden sugars make it quite a task to avoid ingesting sugar laden foods.


Are you completely aware of what you eat or drink?


So have we finally identified the real bad guy of the Western diet? History will answer this question but what we already know is that the triggers of cancer are not known. Scientists are continually trying to identify possible causes or contributions to the development of cancer but so far, no one trigger or triggers have been identified.

With this in mind and out of concern for the tremendous financial cost on cancer patients and their families, AIG Direct has come up with a Cancer Cover policy that will give you peace of mind with a cash benefit of €32,000 with Standard cover, or up to €64,000 with Platinum Plus cover in case of a cancer diagnosis. Click here for more information.


The article was written by the MedOnline Medical Team. MedOnline is an interactive web/mobile clinic. The views expressed in this article are those of MedOnline and do not necessarily reflect the views of AIG Europe Limited.


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