Is It Just a Sweet Tooth or a Sugar Addiction?

By: Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

You just finished a meal and are looking for something sweet. You might be wondering, does this craving mean I am addicted to sugar? Do I need to be concerned about this spiraling out of control?

While it is normal to enjoy and even occasionally crave sweets, how do you know if you have a sugar addiction or just a sweet tooth? 

For most of us, we are probably eating too much sugar and this may point to a sugar addiction. In fact, approximately 15% of our calories comes from sugar, whereas the recommendation is to keep that number at 10% or less. Eating too much sugar, may mean we are already addicted or it can cause cravings for more and more. 

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference, but understanding why we want sugar can help you evaluate if you need to make a change in your relationship with sweets.

Your Brain on Sugar

While our taste buds do naturally enjoy sugar, “cravings” don’t come from the mouth, but from the brain. Understanding the psychological reasons behind the desire for sugar can help you break an undesirable habit of overeating sweets.

Addictions are usually triggered by the area in the brain called the hippocampus. This is where your memories and reward-seeking behavior comes from. 

The brain remembers a time when eating sugar was associated with feeling good. Maybe you ate a slice of cake surrounded by friends or were rewarded for positive behavior with a lollipop. 

Both memories of psychological rewards and the sugar itself release feel-good chemicals in the brain. The more often we use sugar as a reward, the more this connection is solidified. 

Over time, your brain learned that to feel better, sugar was a great way to achieve that goal. When we are sad, angry, stressed, sugar does help us feel better, in the short term. This is not in your imagination.

A problem arises and we feel “addicted” to sugar, when it becomes our primary coping mechanism for the negative emotions in life. 

If you find yourself out of control with sugar, pay attention to the emotions you are feeling when you reach for that sweet snack.

If you are constantly turning to sweets after a bad day, during periods of stress, or if you are experiencing negative emotions, this may mean you have a sugar addiction. Basically, you are using sugar to cope, rather than just enjoying it and moving on. 

Tips for Breaking a Sugar Addiction

If you feel your need for sugar is out of control, try addressing some of the underlying causes. Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Manage your stress. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can trigger sugar cravings. Make sure you are actively trying to reduce your stress by taking time to relax, incorporating meditation, or exercising regularly. 
  2. Get enough sleep. When you don’t sleep, you crave more sugar to stay awake. Aim for 7-9 hours a night. 
  3. Learn positive coping techniques. Addictions serve a purpose, they help you cope. Learning better coping techniques, like meditation, talking to a friend, or journaling is a great way to not use sugar when life gets hard. 
  4. Check your diet for minerals. A deficiency in minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, iron, or chromium can increase sugar cravings. Sugarbreak’s Stabilize is a great source of chromium and Sugarbreak Kid’s Reduce contains some zinc, but adding healthy foods like nuts and green veggies can help increase the mineral content of your diet. 
  5. Eat more protein. Protein helps you stay satisfied after meals and stabilizes blood sugar, which reduces cravings for more sugar.
  6. Try Sugarbreak Resist. This is a quick-dissolving, minty-fresh breath strip made with Gymnema Sylvstre, an herb scientifically proven to block sweet tastes in food and curb sugar cravings on the spot. It blocks the brain’s reward system for sugar, so you can gain control. 

When you become aware of the role of sugar in your life, it makes it easier to identify if you have a sugar addiction or just enjoy sweets. Using sugar to cope with negative feelings is a telltale sign that you might be addicted. Instead, seek to find other ways to manage your emotions and reward yourself.