Glucose is the fuel for our brain, therefore, our whole body needs sugar to function. Refined sugar—what's in every sweet junk food you consume on those late study nights—is highly addictive and dangerous. If you feel anxious when there are sweets or pastries in front of you; if you can't put that chocolate bar back in the fridge or on the counter because you won't stop thinking about it until you are done with it; if you can't spend a day without sweet treats; if your only cure for anxiety is called cookies and cream or if you feel a real need of eating something sweet after every meal, then I have some news for you: you probably have a sugar addiction. 

Sugar Addiction Is a Real Thing

milk, sweet, chocolate, candy
Nicole Witte

"It’s a biological disorder, driven by hormones and neurotransmitters that fuel sugar and carb cravings—leading to uncontrolled overeating. It’s the reason nearly 70 percent of Americans and 40 percent of kids are overweight," says Dr. Mark Hyman. 

You need to understand that sugar affects you in a similar way that some drugs do. It's not the end of the world. Like any other addiction, you can overcome it. What now? The key is to understand why this is happening to your brain and body. Let's check out some facts. 

The Sugar Path

chocolate, dairy product, cappuccino, sweet, espresso, cream, milk, coffee
Christine Chang

You've had a long day and you can't wait to get home, put on some comfortable clothes and have dinner in peace. After that...does the idea of a "sweet little treat" come to mind? Many people have sweet cravings at night and according to nutritionist Luciana Altieri, although it could be caused by different circumstances, there are two main reasons.

The first one has to do with habits and the idea of obtaining a pleasuring reward after an intense day, sugar equals pleasure so the mind connects that idea with the luscious delight. The other reason is metabolic, when our energy levels have been drained during the day, our bodies ask for a fast recovery. The easiest way we know is to eat something sugary. 

pastry, goody, cake, candy, sweet, cannoli, cream, chocolate
Photo by Connie Fan

When we consume refined sugar or simple carbohydrates (baked goods, cookies, cereal, processed food) our blood sugar levels trigger. Think of kids after eating candy, they get all excited and start running around like crazy. When we eat a sweet snack at work or in class, it feels good because sugar tricks our brain into thinking we have a lot of energy. But the truth is that we only got a sugar rush that doesn't last very long. 

Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the “reward” centers of the brain, involving brain neurotransmitters like dopamine. Dopamine is released and our brain understands this as instant happiness. That happiness only lasts a short time, before it becomes pure and simple fat. 

Those high energy levels eventually decrease and you not only feel bad and tired, but also start suffering from anxiety, hunger and your brain interprets that you need more of that thing that made you happy, transforming it into an intense sugar/simple carbs craving. The more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave. It is as simple as that. Sugar produces addiction to our brain, and if you can't control it, it can eventually cause you real health problems.

Mental Strength and Healthier Alternatives 

We need to remember that carbohydrates aren't the problem, it's simple carbs that are the saboteurs. Complex carbs are not only good for us, but also necessary to stay heathy. They can be found in green vegetables, beans, lentils, peas, starchy vegetables, whole grains and foods made from them, here you have a list that can help. 

Finding substitutions for your full-of-sugar snacks is not as hard as it seems. You need to keep in mind that being organized and preparing your snacks in advance can help you avoid the street junk food.    

Let me introduce you to your new best friend: raw cacao (better than powder cocoa). Aztecs thought that the cacao tree was a gift from the Gods, and they were probably right. Raw cacao is an extraordinary super food. It has high levels of magnesium, calcium, iron, chromium, antioxidants and it makes our bodies produce serotonin, which balances our mood. Raw cacao is good by itself, but when mixed with sugar and milk it's like an explosion and becomes highly addictive to your brain. 

oatmeal cereal, cereal, banana, sweet
Photo by Megan Clarkson

Other options are fruits, raw coconut chips, nuts, raisins, DATES. Another good alternative is +70% cacao chocolate. I used to say I hated it because I needed the milk chocolate, but now that my mind is on my side, I happen to like dark chocolate a lot. 

Being aware of what is going on inside of our bodies can lead to a better life in general, learning how to cope with cravings helps reduce anxiety and stress. And the good news is that once your body gets used to the substitutions, you don't even miss the processed sugar anymore.