Ever since I was young, it felt like my parents, teachers, and relatives were saying, "Stay away from sugar."  Whether this was said in the context of getting an uninvited cavity or an uncontrollable sugar high, the message rang loud and clear: sugar was bad for me. Yet somehow my devious little mind always rebelled against the higher authorities, and thus, my sweet tooth grew like a bad habit.

Once we have one cookie, we immediately want another. It's not just that we're hungry, it's that sugar stimulates addictive properties in our brains. Here, your questions on the dangers of sugar get answered, along with some helpful tips to overcoming your sweet tooth.

Cane Sugar vs. Refined Sugar

The question of the century is: if it's natural, isn't raw cane sugar better for me? The answer is no. Sugar is sugar. Both sugars are extracted from the juice of the sugarcane, however it is the refinement process that distinguishes refined sugar from its cane counterpart. Cane sugar is made from sugar cane, whereas granulated sugar is made from either the sugar cane or sugar beets.

Refined sugar undergoes more processing that essentially filters out all material that is not sugar, transforming into tiny white granules. However, although cane sugar is more "natural" it isn't necessarily better for you. The chemical composition of raw, organic cane sugar is the same as refined sugar. Although they are marketed differently at the supermarket, they are metabolized the same in our bodies. 

The problem with sugar, either refined or raw, is that our bodies aren't meant to ingest it at the high quantities it is being added into packaged foods. Eat too much sugar and your body will go into stress mode, overproduce insulin in your pancreas, and lower you blood sugar levels. This is what causes the infamous sugar crash when you eat too many Twizzlers. 

The Science of Sugar Addiction

rice, sweet, cereal, salt
Aakanksha Joshi

In a recent study on sugar addiction, sugar was found to form cravings in the human body similar to those induced by highly addictive drugs, like cocaine and nicotine. This neurological evidence suggests humans share an evolutionary history with sugar.

To elaborate, sugar addiction is biological. Going back to when there was no food surplus and humans had to scavenge, hunt, and gather, sugar was rare to find as an energy source. This prompted cravings that made early people go on quests for sweetness, which helps our bodies store fat in times of scarcity.

Today, finding sugar is just as simple as going to the nearest supermarket's candy aisle. Added sugar is everywhere in processed foods, disguised with the names of brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and sucrose, to name a few. Sugar found in fruit or milk qualifies as naturally-occurring sugars, which have less health risks than added sugars. 

Sugar Content in Fruit

juicy, Summer, fresh fruit, apple, peach, nectarine
Julia Gilman

Fruit and sugar are comprised of the same two sweet molecules, fructose and glucose. If that's the case, isn't it logical to say that if you eat a piece of cake with the same sugar content of a banana, you're ingesting the same thing? Nope. Fruit has added benefits that fuel our bodies with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and hydrating H2O. These are essential components we need to thrive as healthy humans. On the opposite side of the food spectrum, most factory-produced foods and beverages skillfully exclude important nutrients from their never-ending ingredients lists (ironic, isn't it?).

Additionally, your body absorbs the sugar from fruit at a much slower rate (due to all of the nutritious compounds and water). Consequently, our bodies process sugar from fruit slower, which makes digestion and energy-conversion that much easier. 

How to Eat Less Processed Sugar

pastry, goody, cake, sweet, cookie, chocolate
Spoon Csu

Firstly, consuming sugar in mindful moderation will help you break this sweet habit. Stay conscious of foods high in sugar content and avoid drinking beverages like sweet teas, sodas, or juices. Instead of opting for a bag of M&M's, opt for some of nature's sugar, like a bag of grapes. When in doubt, choose whole over processed foods. 

With the addictive sugar habit finally kicked, you'll be fiending for carrots instead of Cap'n Crunch. Keep the dangers of sugar in mind the next time the craving hits, and remind yourself that you're building healthier, lifelong habits.