Is Sugar Addictive?

By Marion Nestle
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Photo by Ayelie/Flickr CC


I feel like this will open a Pandora's box, but I'm hearing more and more about food as a problem of addiction. I have a hard time seeing it that way. We have to eat to live and in that sense I suppose you could consider food addictive. Food does stimulate the same pleasure centers that addictive drugs do, although not to the same extent. Does that make food, and especially sugar, addictive?

Two studies take on the question. The first, from Canadian researchers, equivocates. In some ways yes, in other ways no.

The second study, from Wales professor David Benton, looks at what you would have to show to prove sugar addiction. He concludes that current observations just don't support it, saying:

If sugar addiction exists ... addicts would experience increased food cravings, predominantly for sweet items; cravings would be especially strong in the morning, after an overnight fast; obese people would find sweet foods particularly attractive; and high sugar consumption would predispose people to obesity ... There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders.

[Here's the abstract of his paper.]

Really? I'm curious to know what's out there on this.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/01/is-sugar-addictive/33202/