The Perils of Too Much Sugar

With candy season is on the horizon, be aware of the heath problems the sweet stuff is known to cause

I call it the candy season. It spans Halloween to Easter, when there is something overly sweet front and center everywhere we shop. It starts with candy corn and all the Tootsie Rolls that come home from trick-or-treating. Once Halloween is over—and sometimes before—we launch into Christmas with toffee, fudge and candy canes. Next up are the conversation hearts of Valentine’s Day. Then it’s Easter and jellybeans and Peeps. During all these months, every known candy bar is shrunk and repackaged in a seasonal wrapper.

And given the U.S. marketing strategies of hitting us early and often, candy season begins soon after the start of school and can easily stretch into April. That means candy in the stores, at the office and dangerously close to our shopping carts nearly eight months of the year. Sure, I always have the option to just not buy it, and I do exercise that option as much as I can, but the truth is that all that candy is a great big temptation to me.

My problem is not with Hershey’s or Nestle or Cadbury. They’re just operating the way all consumer brands and companies do. I’m sure I could peel back the foil and find egregious practices if I looked, but that’s not my objective here. At the heart of my concern is the same thing at the base of all those sweets: sugar.

Long before low-carb diets entered the weight-loss landscape, we knew that sugar wasn’t really healthy. It wreaks havoc for diabetics, and more recent science links excess sugar consumption to heart disease. Some even blame it for blemishes and premature wrinkles.

Now some scientists are finding that the sweet stuff is even more insidious. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, trigger pleasure zones in the brain. This can lead to cravings and addiction.

Another study presented at the 2013 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting found that high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener similar to regular old sugar and commonly found in sodas and processed foods, is not only addictive but can be as addictive as cocaine. It explained that while not everyone who tries the drug gets addicted, so not everyone who consumes high fructose corn syrup will, either. But many will. And individuals even experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to eliminate sugar from their diets.

There is actually a quickly growing body of science supporting the notion of the addictive quality of certain foods, mostly those that are widely considered junk foods.

All of this confirms what many of us have suspected or experienced all along. We’ve heard the cries from the ice cream carton in the freezers. We’ve anguished as we’ve walked past the candy bowl at work. We’ve chastised ourselves after eating that second piece of pie or that whole bag of M&M’s. The temptation. The cravings. The consuming thoughts. The lapses. The guilt. It turns out that this language and these experiences apply equally to sweets as they do to drugs.

The obvious difference, of course, is that most drugs are expensive and relatively hard to come by while sugar is cheap and easy to get. Drugs can tear apart families in ways that obesity usually doesn’t, but we all know by now that obesity is not without staggering costs of its own. A bag of Sour Patch Kids might not be akin to a crack pipe, but the difference is more a matter of degree and not kind.

For me, it can feel that way with candy. Even if I manage to keep it out of my body, it’s still a fight to keep it off my mind.

Jennifer Garrett is a Madison-based freelance writer. She blogs about healthy living in Health Kick.

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