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Just say no to…sugar?

Dr. Steven Heidinger writes about sugar addiction
Wellness Column by Dr. Steven Heidinger

Being of school age in the early 1980s, I vaguely remember the “just say no to drugs” era of the war on drugs movement started by Nancy and President Reagan. It was designed to combat drug addiction by getting kids to say no to anyone who would introduce them to recreational drug use. I remember television commercials of kids saying no to the drug pusher who was going to give them their first taste of crack cocaine, free of charge, just to get them addicted.

Something happened to me recently at a local grocery store that reminded me of this.  

I love free stuff…who doesn’t? I do most of my grocery shopping at a store which often gives a free item if you spend a certain amount during your visit. Over the years I have enjoyed free towels, blankets, barbecue utensils, soaps, face creams, scented candles and food containers, to name a few.  

My latest grocery store freebie made me a bit suspicious. It was a box that contained five different boxes of cereal and three boxes of granola-type bars. These are items I would have never bought on my own simply because they are just too sweet. So sweet, in fact, that in seven of the items, the second ingredient listed was sugar (or corn syrup).

I understand the general marketing scheme of giving away a free item, hoping the receiver would like it enough to actually purchase the item in the future, but my inner conspiracy theorist is suspicious that it’s just another way for the sugar industry to get our kids further hooked on sweets.

Aha!! I see what you’re trying to do, big sugar-pushing business conglomerate!  

Now my suspicions are not unfounded as there is both a physiological and psychological basis for believing that sugar has potential for being an addictive substance. The American Psychiatric Association defines an addiction as, “a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.”  

Some experts believe that sugar addiction is real, as cravings and impaired control exist in a similar fashion to alcohol, opioids and recreational drugs. Apparently, there are neurochemical similarities between sugar withdrawal and morphine withdrawal. 

“…Compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.” We all know sugar has harmful health consequences such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity. We are now beginning to understand that sugar is a compulsive substance.

It would be socially unacceptable (and highly illegal) to give away free samples of crack cocaine, fentanyl, or morphine while checking out at the grocery store, yet we don’t bat an eye when it’s sugar. Heck, most North American households give millions of tonnes of the stuff away to children every October 31st. 

Why is it the free item at the grocery store is never a bag of broccoli or an avocado?

I still took my box o’ sugar, cuz it’s free you know!

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