The Sugar Merry-Go-Round
I thought this could be useful information to know.
This is something I go into more depth about in the book ‘The Keto Diet’ but here’s the overview. Have you been trying to lose weight yet circle back around to the same patterns of behaviour around certain foods irrespective of the plain fact you know that those foods are halting progress?
We all know sugar and sugar-based foods are pernicious to health and make losing weight hard, yet we lack the ‘will power’ to abstain for sustained periods for results to be pronounced.
Well, it has very little to do with will power or lack thereof, and more to do with neurochemistry – which is out of your control.
We have a nerve that is a direct information highway from the gut to the brain called the vagus nerve. These nerves also splinter off into other organs of the body including the stomach, lungs and heart providing sensor inputs to the brain.
When we consume sugar, neurons in our gut send a signal to the brain which triggers the release of dopamine.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter triggered by stimulants such as cocaine, as well as sex and chocolate.
This effect establishes a reward system promoting cravings for sugary foods. We are then victims of our biochemistry and not behaving out of greed or a lack of will power.
The taste of sugar is the hook, as research doesn’t need to show that even when subjects have their mouths numbed (can not experience the taste of sugar) the biochemistry reaction still occurs and dopamine is triggered, thus perpetuating the cravings. Dopamine is our chemical for desire and pleasure.
Important to know is that when sugar is added to what are essentially savoury foods such as dressing, sauces etc the neurons in the gut pick up the sugar and signal dopamine.
This will drive cravings for those foods which is the underpinning for the western diet and the obesity/type 2 diabetes epidemic.
The vagus nerve also informs the brain if the stomach is distended or not. When we consume sugary foods the signal to stop eating is stalled. However, when we consume protein (amino acids) the signal to stop when we are full is loud and clear, particularly when we are eating a broad diversity of amino acids through animal products or a variety of plant-based proteins.
As I’ve stressed before, once we are on the sugary merry-go-round it’s largely out of our control. The cravings are coming from our hormones and neurotransmitters and not because we simply like the taste of sugar. The only way to interrupt the merry-go-round is to jump off completely or slow it down considerably. Jumping off completely in the form of cold turkey will work for some but not others – slowing it down or weaning off sugar is a strategy that has greater adherence, but do whichever works for your personality type.
You might ask why do we have a system within us which means we crave foods that enable us to gain weight – it doesn’t serve the species.
The simple answer is that did once upon a time.
We haven’t always lived with a food landscape where sugary foods are on every shelf, and street corner. For most of human history, our species have had to contend with scarcity, famine and distinct seasons. The mechanism is not a glitch rather a pre-programmed driver of survival. It helped our ancestors gorge on sugary foods when they were in season or abundant to ‘fatten’ us up for winter.
Today, that Winter never comes.
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