Can you become addicted to sugar?

Is sugar addicting?

Where does the greed for sugar come from?

Heidelberg researchers have found that sugar activates the “reward system” in the brain. This means that the brain reacts to sugar by releasing the "happiness hormone" dopamine. The brain reacts in a similar way to addictive substances such as alcohol and other drugs. Thus, sugar can trigger addiction-like behavior. Animal experiments have shown that high sugar consumption can lead to changes in the synapses (connections through which nerve cells are in contact with other cells). In this way, the brain is programmed to consume sugar and can trigger not only short-term but permanent cravings. The scientists think it is at least conceivable that these brain changes found in animal experiments can also occur in humans.

American scientists have also found in animal experiments that abstinence from sugar led to withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and chattering of teeth in laboratory rats. As soon as the "drug" was made available again after a break, the rats ate even more sugar than before. The withdrawal symptoms, this greed and the increasing sugar consumption were interpreted by the researchers as addiction indicators.

According to nutrition experts, however, these attempts are not easily transferable to humans, especially since sugar is not directly comparable to drugs such as alcohol, nicotine or heroin. But behavior like: “I absolutely have to eat something sweet now!” Can at least be described as addiction-like. This is especially true if those affected cannot stop consuming sugar. In particular, very overweight people often have impaired eating habits in this regard.

How much sugar can humans tolerate?

From a chemical point of view, ordinary table sugar or white sugar is a disaccharide (= double sugar) called sucrose and belongs to the group of carbohydrates. Sucrose consists of the monosaccharides (= simple sugars) glucose and fructose. Sucrose is naturally produced by plants such as sugar beet. Industrial sugar production takes place by refining the sugar beet juice. The natural product sugar is therefore initially not suspected of being harmful to health.

But the dose makes the poison. Consistently high sugar consumption has been shown to lead to obesity with the associated long-term effects such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. Why is that?

One gram of sucrose or sugar contains around four kilocalories (kcal) of energy. One hundred grams of sugar - this corresponds to the average daily consumption in Germany - thus contains 400 kcal. The calorie requirement of adults depends on gender and physical activity. It amounts to between 1,800 kcal (light activity, women) up to 3,500 kcal (intensive physical activity, men) per day. Thus, 100 grams of sugar with 400 kcal already cover between 11 and 22 percent of the daily energy needs of adults.

That doesn't sound dramatic at first. But: Sugar is often not isolated, but consumed as a component of fatty foods such as cakes or chocolate. So it's no wonder that these “calorie bombs” made from fat and sugar can lead to obesity. In addition, many soft drinks contain large amounts of sugar. The German Nutrition Society therefore recommends not consuming more than 50 grams of sugar a day. So half of what is actually consumed on average at the moment. But that is easier said than done.

How can you reduce your sugar consumption?

Sugar is mainly found in many baked goods, sweets, finished and semi-finished products as well as in many ready-made sauces, canned goods and beverages. If you want to keep your sugar consumption under control, experts advise you to reduce your consumption of this food. Better still: avoid these products as completely as possible.

Unfortunately, using honey or cane or brown sugar for sweetening does not help, as these are chemically and therefore almost identical in calories to white sugar. Various sweeteners have little or no calories and can help you lose weight as part of a diet. "Especially with soft drinks, sweetened variants can be an alternative to prevent high sugar intake from sweetened drinks," says the German Nutrition Society.


  • Too much sugar is dangerous to your health. Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are favored by excessive sugar consumption.
  • If possible, avoid sugary baked goods and cakes, sweets, finished products, ready-made sauces, sugary drinks.
  • Drink water or sugar-free tea to quench your thirst. In moderation, fruit juices diluted with water are also recommended.
  • In the context of weight loss diets, sweeteners can be helpful in reducing energy intake.

Status: April 2018