Most of us have experienced the addictive pull of sugary snacks and desserts. But is it the sugar or the sweetness that is addictive? In this post, I share how sweet foods alter your tastebuds, brain, and body. Understanding this connection can help you experience less diet anxiety and get better weight loss results.
Addicted to Sugar or Sweetness – At-A-Glance
- The enjoyment of food has a mental (sensory) and physical (postingestive) component.
- Sweetness without nutritional value, as we get from keto-friendly snacks, only satisfy one branch of the food reward system, leaving us craving more.
- Following a well-formulated low carb diet can break your addiction to sweetness and enhancing weight loss.
Are You Addicted to Sugar or Sweetness? [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- The two components that make up how we enjoy food!
- The effect of sweetness without any nutritional value.
- The best way to break your addiction to sweetness.
The Science of Sweetness
The enjoyment of eating is one of those primal urges programmed into us to ensure our survival. If there was no pleasure associated with eating, we wouldn’t bother doing it and therefore fail to thrive.
The reward we experience when we eat something pleasurable is twofold with both a sensory and postingestive component (1).
The sensory branch is activated as you eat through taste receptors on your tongue as well as a part of your brain known as the reward center that responds to the sweet stimulus by releasing a feel-good chemical called dopamine (2).
The postingestive or after-eating branch has to do with the value our bodies receive from the food we ate. So satisfying this branch depends on the nutritional components of the food (1).
Understanding that two branches need to be fulfilled for a food to be mentally and physically satisfying is where we start to see that it is not just sugar but sweetness that is problematic for your diet. And this is where artificially sweetened low carb or keto snacks come into play.
A study involving artificial sweetness, revealed the following:
“Increasing evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the same fashion as natural sweeteners. Lack of caloric contribution generally eliminates the postingestive component” (1).
In other words, when you eat something sweet, you get sensory satisfaction because your tastebuds and brain chemistry are loving it. But, if that sweetness came without nutritional value, the second branch of the food reward pathway goes unfulfilled, leaving you unsatisfied and looking for more to eat.
The Sweetness Trap
When we start a diet, it is human nature to search for foods that act as substitutions for our old favorites yet technically fit our new diets’ parameters. This is a common trap for low carb and keto dieters.
In the late 2010’s, when low-carb dieting was first growing in popularity, there were very few keto-friendly products on the grocery store shelves. Today, you find them throughout the store, from the snack aisle to the health food area.
These snack alternatives reduce their carb content by swapping white sugar and flour for sugar substitutes and more natural types of flour. Like their full-sugar counterparts, they are sweet. They are also junk foods with little nutritional value.
Sweetness without nutritional value offers partial, but not complete, activation of the food reward pathways. In the moment, you will enjoy eating the treat. However, by eating it, you’ve kept your sweet tooth alive so that it can live another day and come back to bug you tomorrow.
If you are someone who feels like the only way to stick with a diet long enough to get results is to white-knuckle it through cravings, you may be setting yourself up for hardship by keeping sweetness in your diet. But you can correct this problem and feel more confident.
Just like there is a mental and physical branch to the food reward system, there is a mental and physical approach to breaking free from cravings and enhancing your dieting experience.
From a mental standpoint, consider that it is more accurate to describe the phenomenon as a sweet addiction rather than sugar addiction. With this mindset, you’ll find it easier to avoid packaged keto snacks that encourage cravings and sugar dependence.
To satisfy the physical component, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods that are high in healthy fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. This way of eating keeps your blood sugar steady, preventing the blood sugar crashes that drive hunger and cravings.
It also eliminates the assault on your brain chemistry and tastebuds, allowing you to feel satisfied with the subtle sweetness found in nutrient-rich natural foods like berries, nuts, and seeds.
Knowing which foods are low in carbs is the first step to breaking free from sweets. I have a list of 100 low carb foods that you can download for free on my website! Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Yang, Qing. “Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010.” The Yale journal of biology and medicine 83.2 (2010): 101.
(2) Rada, Pedro, Nicole M. Avena, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell.” Neuroscience 134.3 (2005): 737-744.
About the Author
Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.