Several years ago, when I first heard sugar compared to cocaine, I thought the comparison sounded a little bit exaggerated. I mean, come on! How can something we eat everyday be compared to a very serious drug? However, the more I researched into processed sugar, the more I feel that the comparison holds up.
Processed vs. Natural
Cocaine comes from the coca leaf, native to the northwestern regions of South America. In its natural form, the leaves have been used as a traditional medicine to treat altitude sickness, digestive issues, and headaches. Used as both an anesthetic and a pain reliever, the coca leaves were considered a sacred plant in traditional Andean cultures. They would chew the leaves or make a tea (mate) from the leaves.
To become cocaine, humans process and refine the chemical compounds in the coca leaves to produce the white powder that we call cocaine or Benzoylmethylecgonine. In fact, cocaine is so processed, that eating or ingesting cocaine typically has little or no effect because it is neutralized the acid in our stomachs. To get any effect from ingesting cocaine, you typically have to consume it with a highly alkaline substance such as lime. This is why cocaine is typically snorted or injected.
In sum, in its natural form, coca leaves provide a mild analgesic and stimulant effect and were prized in traditional medicine for their curative powers. When you refine it into a white powder, it becomes dangerous and very addictive. What about sugar?
In nature, sugar is found in many plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables as well as in milk. In breast milk, the lactose (milk sugar) is there to provide energy for a growing baby. However, humans, like all other mammals, are evolved to stop drinking milk after being weaned. The sugar that is found naturally in plants is accompanied by fiber. Even a sugar cane, the juice of which is used to make table sugar, is very fibrous.
Sugar cane, sugar beets, and many fruits all have a high content of sugar. However, typically, those foods that are high in sugar are also high in fiber. For example, a mango has a lot of sugar but also a lot of dietary fiber. The fiber helps to slow the absorption of the sugar into the blood stream, preventing the blood sugar spike that you get from eating processed sugar.
Like cocaine, humans process and refine these plants until you end up with a white powder: sugar. Alternatively, they take corn, which is produced in an extreme over-abundance in the United States, and they process the corn to extra the fructose, leading to high fructose corn syrup.
While still not accepted completely in scientific literature, increasing research shows that sugar is highly addictive. The study that stands out is one where rats that were addicted to cocaine gave up cocaine for sugar or saccharin and became addicted to those instead. Here is the original journal abstract.
There are some who oppose this view. Here is a journal article that disputes the addictive nature of sugar in humans. One thing to note is that the food and sugar industry regularly sponsor research that only gets published if the results shine a positive light on sugar or other processed foods.
The Food Industry's Role
Which brings us to the food and sugar industry. If I told you that the manufacturers were adding cocaine to baby formula in order to get babies addicted to cocaine so they would later crave and buy foods with added cocaine, you would probably freak out. However, that is exactly what is happening with something even more addictive. Baby formula has added refined sugar and this is exactly what the food industry wants. Over the last several decades, the food industry has purposely added sugar to more and more foods to get consumers both addicted to the sugar and hooked on the "sweet taste" of foods. Here is a graph that shows the increase in sugar consumption over time in the US.
A Final Note
If you would like to kick the sugar habit, I have a free gift for you. I created an e-book with eight simple steps to help you kick processed sugar and end your addiction. It is free for anyone to download. Just follow this link.
I am back after a week off. I am working on a new big project and I will be unveiling that project in next week's blog.