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S6 E1 – Are we addicted to sugar?

We’re kicking off this season hard talking about sugar addiction. Whilst it’s been proven that animals can be addicted to sugar, there’s no actual proof that the same theory applies to humans. But are we choosing to turn a blind eye to our apparent dependence on the product?

Best soundbite: “Just so you know, pasta grows above the ground…” – Jamie Spafford

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  1. Carotte

    I totally agry with barry that there has to be a revolution. Which means it has to start with ourself. Wether we think we are addicted or “just” have a graving for sugar, something in our body is telling us to get it. Maybe the synapses in our brain or this strange feeling in our stomache. What are we going to do about it? Are we closing are eyes and just turn away so we don’t have to see it? Or are we starting to think about the things we put in our body and educate ourselfs about the effects they may or may not have? In the end it’s up to every single one of us to make that choice for ourselfs. It’s OUR body. WE are responsible for it.

  2. Taezar

    Am I looking in the incorrect place for the link that Mike mentioned to the Yale self assessment as to sugar addiction?

  3. JoRo

    1. I totally feel Jamie’s pain of looking at packets and going “why is that in there!?!” I have a list of foods I can’t eat (because unlike Barry I don’t enjoy having allergic reactions) and honestly it’s a nightmare, it’s always in the foods you least expect.
    2. Story to back up Jamie’s point about “addiction to sweetness” Trying soft fruits with group of students, was amazed at how many described the strawberries and raspberries as bitter, we tried them as well and as a staff group agreed they were very sweet fruits. We thought ok what are these students consuming when we see them? In class it’s mainly drinks so sugar free juices (with artificial sweeteners), sugar free flavoured water (again with the artificial sweeteners) and sugar free squash (artificial sweeteners), so they’re having all these very sweet tasting drinks then trying soft fruits which, while containing plenty of natural sugars are nowhere near as sweet. Actually amazes me the number of young people who don’t like water and have to have sweetness in their drinks.
    3. Education is an incredibly important factor in helping people make healthy choices, however it can only do so much if the cheaper foods are the less healthy options, if the choice is feed your family one healthy meal or feed them for a week it’s a no brainer.

    • Bebbrell

      Wow – hadn’t considered how an entire generation are more in tune to sweeteners that just sweet! Interesting… and worrying. What age group is that?

      • JoRo

        16 year olds (special needs setting). Was a common theme across the age range in primary schools when I was doing supply a few years ago, and friends working in nursery and early years classes have also noticed that drinks will often be sweetened (fruit shoots and similar are very popular), they are ‘healthy’ in that they don’t contain sugar (and so are allowed in schools), but they are still very sweet drinks.

  4. Dimi

    Addiction is a strong word. But I do agree that there are degrees of addiction and that food addiction and specifically sugar addiction definitely do exist.
    Talking about diagnosis, or over diagnosis, a while ago I was diagnosed with B.E.D. (Binge Eating Disorder) and I’ve found a very polarising response from this. Medical professionals seemed very suspicious about diagnosing this as the “real problem” and tip toed around it for a long time. But many “regular” people out in the world, when I wanted to talk about it, were quick to say “oh, I overeat when I’m stressed, maybe I have this too!”. It’s a tough one, and something I don’t really talk about much, mostly because I don’t want to have to then explain what the difference is. Mental health is definitely a space which we don’t talk about enough in these discussions, and it can be very difficult, especially when those that are suffering are the ones that often have to advocate for themselves.

    As a culture, I don’t know if we’re all addicted, but we definitely consume a lot more sugar than we should, at least in the western world. When I first started working in a supermarket I was shocked to find out, (and maybe that was naive of me, or maybe it’s because we didn’t drink much of it at home) but the highest selling product every week is Coke. Not milk, not bread, not eggs, Coke. This is probably why the UK government started it’s sugar tax by taxing sugary drinks. Has it worked? I’m not in the UK so I don’t know, but I would suggest it wont make a big difference. I’ve seen bottle sizes change, prices go up and down, people are buying it all the same.
    We’ll say it again and again in these podcasts: education, education, education. I don’t think putting warning labels on food is helpful. We talk about moderation, and free will, I don’t think shaming people will really work. But teaching kids about cooking and nutrition and moderation from an early age, it can go a long way in shifting the tide, it wont change things over night, but few big problems change that quickly.
    Also, programs and initiatives that help under-privileged people to have access to food, (real food, not just the processed stuff they can pick up for cheap themselves,) are probably the best way to spend some of the money the government is raising from sugar taxes and such.

    • Bebbrell

      Well we appreciate you sharing these thoughts here, even if you don’t really normally discuss. Consider the SORTED Club a safe space for chat!
      Where are you based? Interested to hear about the coke sales in the supermarket… which country/state/region?

      • Dimi

        As you saw in the other post I work for Woolworths, one of the major 3 supermarkets here in Australia (Melbourne). Obvs sales are going to vary store to store but you’d find Coke (and I mean Coke brand coke, not including other brands or sodas) at the top all across the country. Now the figure is intentionally deceptive in that it’s the highest selling in dollars, it does get beat out by bread and milk in actual units. But it does show how much money is being made off of these products and therefore reinvested back into selling/marketing them. And like I said, maybe I was just shocked because we barely bought any at home, but the fact that it’s such an “unnecessary” product, and is consumed soo much intrigued me! We have one team member who’s job is basically going through and restock milk, soft drinks and chips/snacks 4-5 times a day. While the rest of the store gets checked only twice. 👀 dont tell anyone I’m revealing trade secrets here 🤐

  5. Anita

    Did you know that your microbiome’s composition can influence your cravings? These “critters” inside us send signals to their host to make them want to eat what they thrive on. A little creepy and it adds another layer to this already complicated topic. If your microbiome is off balance, your mood, your behavior, your overall health suffer. And eating only simple carbs disrupts the balance. As someone living with a chronic illness that can be managed nicely with lifestyle changes, I’ve learned to keep this in mind (in the past, I reduced my sugar – at that time meaning fruit – consumption in order to get off the blood sugar rollercoaster that made me want to kill everybody around me when I had to spend 2 hours without eating).
    I can say I was addicted to sugar, before that, I was addicted to alcohol, after that, I was addicted to starches. I felt better every time I could say goodbye to the addiction(?) in question. But then, a new one appeared. And yes, eating in moderation sounds simple, and could have solved my problems but it was very hard for me. None or as much as available. I had only these two options.
    The severity of my crazy overeatings had a lot to do with how I felt. When I was tired, I overate. When I was nervous, I suddenly became hungry. When I was reluctant to go back to work at the end of my lunch break, I was eating until the break was completely over. Sadness? Consoled myself with food. I had to dig deeper and realize that crazily overeating and feeling shitty for days afterward didn’t solve my original problems. Respectively, rest, stress management, finding a new job, and having a good laugh with a friend could have solved them. (One time, I noticed that doing yoga took my hunger away like magic.) When I’m balanced emotionally, I can enjoy food without gobbling it down like a maniac. As addictive as sugar, or chocolate, or coffee, or alcohol, etc. might be, there are certainly individual factors (genetic and otherwise) that make us more or less prone to becoming addicted.
    Now, that I can compare the amount of sugar I live on today (1-2 servings of berries a day and natural sweeteners once or twice per month) and the amount I ate when I ate like everyone else (before my extreme period when I wolfed down dates and raisins by the handfuls), I strongly think that we, as a society, eat a terrible amount of sugar on a daily basis. Are we addicted? Try to take it away and see the reactions. Food addictions(?) can really be a hard nut to crack as they have so many aspects including individual, social, emotional, biochemical, economic. Plus, whether everyone should crack their own nuts or not, or how much a central power can and should intervene is another question. Education is certainly of great importance, sometimes even a little goes a long way and it can make a big difference in the long run 🌈 🙂

    • Margusenock

      I enjoy reading your post! So many thoughts, so well structured, so usefull info. Thank you for sharing it! Very encouraging!

      • Anita

        Aww, I’m glad you liked it and found it useful 🙂

    • Bebbrell

      Mood and emotions is such an important factor… and the gut-brain axis seems to play a large role in this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Also interesting that sometimes we forget… “wolfing down dates and raisins” are full of sugar. Especially because they are “fruit”. All part of the education… I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t realise that.

  6. Margusenock

    Ooooh what a sensitive topic. At least to me.

    I am unfortunately a sugar addict. I was always a fan of sweet and pastry and I was pretty ok in terms of self control and body weight but after certain events in my life that led to 9 surgeries, a wheal chair for 8 months and me learning how to walk again… well I in a way lost control over that. It was like an easy way to become a bit happier. Like an instant Shot of positivity. And it is addictive even when your life is more or less stable again.

    I wake up and say every day – damn, I need it to stop but it sounds easier than actually doing it. I don’t like sugar in tea or coffee. I don’t like sparkling sugary drinks and juices. But I love baking and pastry. And this is the biggest problem. Especially when you know that you can do it pretty damn good at your own kitchen. Never ending circle.

    I totally agree that we do lack education about sugar effect and addiction. As well as food culture in general. I was raised on my own basically so my food was baaaaaad. But my parents could not do better at that time because they were all the time at work. So since childhood I was not tough what is good and what is bad. And I feel that if I would have some basic education about it, that would probably help me to be a better me in terms of food. It took some time to learn it and if I would have some basic knowledge, maybe I could have avoided my current addiction. I don’t want this mistake for my kids so we do spend a lot of time together talking about food, exploring new tastes. My daughter is attending cooking classes every week since 6, she is 8 now. And my desire to be a better role model to them was the reason why I have joined this club and follow your channel. Now I have another issue though, my 4 years old want to bake together with the older sister and when they do, oh gosh….:))))))

    James and Barry, you actually inspire me with your honesty and open mind. Thank you for sharing your feelings in terms of dieting and cravings. I totally understand that struggle and have exactly same feeling. It’s bad to say but I am happy I am not along in that 🙂 especially now when i have decided to fight for my old me back in my life.

    Hehehe I have actually bought a DNA test today. I bough 4: ancestry, health, nutrition and sport. I want to know who I am, what food is good to me, what is bad, what sport is better and what genetic issues I might have 🙂 that is my mini step towards getting rid of my sugar addiction and becoming healthier in general :))

    James, good luck! Do it for you and you family! I am with you and on the same boat on that 🙂

    • Bebbrell

      Sensitive indeed, thanks for your comment though.

      I think baking (especially with family) is really important. The benefits (social & communication skills, learning the art of sharing, time management & control, not to mention just increased vocabulary as you describe the wonders you’re baking and how it tastes, feels, looks etc. Don’t ever stop that. But if part of the conversation is about the fact that it’s a treat and to be enjoyed in moderation then that’s a really cool thing.

      Completely agree about the open and honest approach to the conversation!

  7. VixReviews

    My fiancé and I both started a keto diet last November,and the difference in how our bodies have reacted to it is astounding. He pretty much just ate cheese for every meal, and had virtually no sugar cravings. He also didn’t have any objections to the lack of variation in his diet, he would only add it a salad every day because he knew he should, not because he particularly wanted to. So far, he’s lost around 50kg (he’s 6’3), and even as he loosens his diet, it’s staying off. He has also had loads more energy, enough to take up jogging.

    I on the other hand, had absolutely monstrous sugar cravings, and when I didn’t get it, I passed out. I also didn’t lose any weight. I also found that if I didn’t get enough variation in my diet, I would slowly find it harder and harder to eat, until I started throwing it back up if I even managed to swallow. My energy levels dipped even lower than they usually are, to the point I couldn’t move unaided. My GP eventually told me to just stop trying to lose weight, it clearly wasn’t working and was just making me sicker.

    So, yes, that’s a pretty extreme example, but to what extent are sugar cravings a symptom of a deeper medical issue, rather than the issue itself?

    As an entirely separate issue, getting food I could make on sick days (ready meals as an absolute maximum energy level), that were keto friendly is really really hard. I tend to prefer at least one hot meal every day, and it was virtually impossible to achieve with keto.

  8. alm477

    While I will admit to being a sugar fiend (I’m definitely a 4-5 packets of sugar in my coffee person) I do hesitate to use the word “addiction” with relation to sugar specifically and food more generally. I’m not saying we (and I live in the USA, so I’ll just speak to that) shouldn’t try to eat less sugar and that there isn’t quality scientific evidence that that would be a good idea. However, without stronger evidence the phrase “sugar addiction” smacks more of attention-grabbing headlines than science. I’ve spent too much time in and around academia to not have a healthy respect and skepticism with how research is (badly) translated into the news (thank you Mike for seeking out scholarly sources! Where will you post the links on the website?) and know that nutrition science is VERY fiddly and more complicated than pop science leads the general public to believe.

    I will continue my gift for being depressing (I’m fun at parties and ethics discussions) and point out that education on nutrition can only go so far unless there is also ACCESS to nutrition, and access is not ONLY being able to afford nutritious food. It is also time, knowledge, and equipment to prepare it. In the US they have tried interventions by bringing people in to schools to help poor kids try new (and more nutritious food) but that hasn’t been especially effective since it’s the kids’ parents who buy/prepare the food they eat at home (if/when they have any). Even when the whole family is included in the education, it doesn’t mean they will be able to afford the ingredients or have the equipment/time to make the food. People make an awful lot of assumptions about what low-income people may have access to–if you’re stuck living in a hotel room because first months rent+deposit is out of your reach, than you might not have a stove, oven, or even a hot plate available to you. A microwave, a mini-fridge, and a handful of cutlery might be the sum and total of your resources and even then that could be considered lucky.

    Be careful of the source of any genetic testing (doctor, company, etc)–some genetics research is more solid on traits than others, and some is more useful than others. Also, having an elevated risk for something doesn’t mean you will 100% get it.

    • Dimi

      I would say neither are a “demon”. As mentioned in this podcast and as cliché as it is, everything in moderation is okay. You NEED fat and some sugar (not so much refined sugar but some sugar in general) for your body to function.
      I think the fact that fat was demonised quite a bit in the 90’s definitely contributed to why so many things have sugar in them now. Because fat was removed from things so they could label them “low fat” or “fat free” and then a ton of sugar was added to them so they could still taste good.

    • Bebbrell

      Agree with Dimi – not a demon as such. We shouldn’t make any foods the villain. However, I see your point. Which train of thought (fat or sugar) has got us to a place where such a huge % of the global population is overweight. An interesting topic for sure… added to the list!

  9. Annie1962

    Thought you were losing weight Jamie!

    I believe we are indeed addicted to sugar and the food industries put sugar in pretty much everything,

    After all you’ve discussed I do believe that education is the key. Our kids need to learn what healthy and tasty foods are. I was shocked to find out that a lot of UK kids don’t even know the names of common everyday vegetables!

    Education – it’s the key.

  10. marityne

    About four years ago I needed to go on a low carb diet after a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. I had already been using an alternative sweetener in my coffee and drinking diet soda, but this was a completely different animal. Much lower carbs than I was used to, and it’s been difficult to find a balance between the things I love but shouldn’t eat and the things that I don’t love but are better for me. Lots of trade-offs also happen in my life. I can have a dessert or a drink at a party if I eat more fiber and veg earlier in the day to balance the carb load. Instead of fish and chips at the pub I’ll get fish and salad. Still a good meal and the fish is the best part anyway, so I don’t miss the chips.

    The more interesting thing that’s happened to my palette is that ultra-sweet things like cakes, cookies, and other sweets aren’t nearly as satisfying anymore. A birthday cake with buttercream icing (a past favorite) takes only one small bite for me to think “that’s disgusting and not worth the carbs or calories.” The sickly-sweet buttercream is just too much for my current palette. If I’m craving cookies or some other sweet treat, finding a store that sells treats from other parts of the world (Jammie Dodgers anyone?) is a better option as they sometimes have a less-sweet taste than American-made treats.

    I think portion control is another issue that comes into play with sugar. As a kid I would never have thought anything of eating a multiple Rice Krispies treats (or peanut butter bars) that my mom had made. Now, not only do those items hold less of a draw but I know that the portion size matters a lot. If I see a treat that I want, instead of taking a huge portion, I will only take a small piece or just scoop up a bit from the corner of the pan. That is usually enough to satisfy my craving to taste it. I also know I can’t keep sweets my home. Any desserts that find their way home with me from a party are left in the kitchen until I can take them to work to share. Only then do I allow myself a small taste and sometimes I can even avoid it until my coworkers have eaten it all.

    I still struggle with things like good bread or homemade treats, but I can usually either talk myself out of it or figure out how to balance it with a more healthy diet for the rest of the day.

  11. Nettan_Juni

    Way to go Jamie, I’m cheering for you 😀

    Warning, an entire essay below, you have been warned 😛

    I’m fat and have been since I was a teenager. I am however not addicted to sugar, at least not now, I am however a comfort eater. Every time I have felt down or depressed I ate bad things to feel good for the moment, to feel anything besides bad or even worse, numb. Whenever I feel good and sometimes even happy, I lose weight without even trying!
    Since I’m fat, you can guess how often that happened.

    I am however feeling better now than what I did 10 years ago and it’s funny that you talked about overdiagnosing, because 9 years ago in January I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and later depression and anxiety was added. When I got my AS ppl asked me about it and what annoyed me was when I described how AS was for me (as it’s different for everyone), ppl would stick on one thing and tell me “oh I have that too, so maybe I have AS too/maybe you don’t really have AS” and saying that EVERYONE gets a diagnosis these days, because it minimize me and my problems.

    Because the thing is, there is no cure or medicine for Autism, none! There’s no Ritalin or something similar that can help with the symptoms and even if there is, we are all so different from each other on the spectrum, that it would be so individual.

    I do take medicine that lowers my depression though, since there’s something missing in my brain that makes me depressed all the time and even more so every autumn and spring. This medicine helps me a lot and I’m fine with taking it the rest of my life. If I don’t take it I become a zombie with no energy and stuck in my bed, which will affect my relationship to friends and family negativetly, so I guess I’m addicted to that medicine? 😛

    I do however believe that you can get addicted to sugar. I might have been when I was younger, but luckily not anymore.

    • Anita

      Thank you for sharing your story! ❤️ I also struggle with periods of anxiety and depression from time to time due to my Hashimoto’s, and I’m a big fan of lifestyle, mentality, and diet approaches (since there is no “conventional” way of dealing with it except for waiting for the condition to proceed). The other day I listened to an intriguing podcast with dr. Theresa Lyons about treating autism in a holistic way. Have you ever heard about her work?

      • Nettan_Juni

        I completely missed that I had gotten replies, so sorry for the late reply and yay for insomnia I guess…?

        I hadn’t heard about her before, I will check her out when I’m not overtired and my brain actually works 😉

    • Dimi

      Thank you for sharing your story about your diagnosis. It sounds like you’re doing okay with everything and I hope that’s the case. As I mentioned in my comment, I had a similar experience being diagnosed with B.E.D. as well as depression and have had many people saying “I eat when I’m sad, maybe I have that too!” so I know it’s tough.
      And I also get a bit annoyed sometimes at the over diagnosis comments, because it was actually really hard for me to get one (for the B.E.D, I was diagnosed with depression first), most doctors avoid diagnosing it then it becomes a really big problem. And I wasn’t actually looking for a “diagnosis” when I finally got one ( from a mental health professional not my actual doctors), but it did help me understand what I was going through.

      • Nettan_Juni

        You won’t hear those words from me, partly because I know how frustrating it is to hear them and partly because I’m so not a binge eater.

        The thing with me getting my diagnosis was that it was such a relief for me, my whole life I’ve felt like an outsider and stupid and suddenly I got answers to why I was like I was and that I wasn’t stupid at all.

        That said I still have some problems, but now I at least know why and I know how to mostly handle it. Otherwise I ask for help.

    • Bebbrell

      It’s heart-warming to hear so many people sharing such personal messages here… and other community members joining the conversation. So much to be learnt from each other. We confess, time and time again, that we are far from experts. Not even close. But simply having the conversation is helpful.

      • Nettan_Juni

        I could say it’s because I’m anonymous and you don’t really know me, but in my case it’s a lie.

        I decided early that I would be open about me and my autism and mental health. I felt ashamed and like a stupid outsider most of my life and when I found out why, it was such a relief that I just refused to feel ashamed anymore. I can’t help that I’m different and there has been times when it actually have been a good thing!

        I can’t change my past and I can’t change how some people reacts to me (badly in a lot of cases, which is why I now also have confirmed agoraphobia, oh yay…), all I can do is to be open about who I am and hope that people are willing to listen and try to understand, like you all here 😊

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