Sugar can be dangerous, in fact it may be several times more addictive than cocaine and more surprisingly some people may not even know how much sugar they are consuming on a daily basis.
This Sunday evening Carte Blanche considers the latest science on sugar intake and drops in on South Africa’s first sugar rehabilitation clinic.
Take this quiz: Am I eating too much sugar?
"Harmony rehabilitation centre in Hout Bay in Cape Town is the first rehab centre in South Africa to offer a sugar addiction programme," Carte Blanche Producer Jo Munnik told Health24.
The programme, called HELP (Harmony Eating Lifestyle Programme), was started and is run by Karen Thomson, who is the grand daughter of world renowned heart surgeon Dr Chris Barnard.
"The centre offers in patient and out patient programmes, which focuses on a holistic approach to rehabilitation from addiction."
Thomson who is a former drug, alcohol and sugar addict has also penned a book called ‘The Sugar Free Revolution’ which was recently published.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that comes in many different forms. In its simplest form it is called a monosaccharide and includes:
- Glucose (occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices)
- Fructose (occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey)
- Galactose (combines with glucose to form lactose)
Munnik said people will be shocked to find out how much sugar they are unknowingly consuming on a daily basis.
Read: What’s SA’s most sugary drink?
Are you living off sugar?
"Sugar is found in an enormous amount of food products from flavoured water to low fat yoghurts, tomato sauce and cereal. Many of these items are marketed as low-fat or high-energy and people have no idea what they are actually putting into their bodies.
In South Africa, there has been a call for a sugar tax of 20%, which is believed will help curb the country's obesity rate.
Research by the University of Witwatersrand has found that a suggested tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) may reduce obesity in 220 000 adults.
SSBs include the following: still and carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, energy drinks and vitamin waters, sweetened ice tea, lemonade, cordials and squashes.
"Many people who may consider themselves to be healthy, may not realise that they are living mostly off sugar," said Munnik.
She said many people do not recognise sugar addiction as a genuine problem, but for some it is a real issue.
Although there is still vigorous debate about whether sugar is to be classified as an ‘addictive’ substance, Munnik said studies indicate that the addiction is similar to cocaine.
"In the past 10 years there has been an enormous amount of research conducted on rats; and in the past 5 years on humans, which strongly suggests that sugar is an addictive substance.
"The reason being that sugar stalemates the pleasure receptors (dopamine) in your brain in the same way as cocaine does," she said.
Munnik pointed out that a study on lab rats at the University of Bordeaux went so far as to suggest that sugar is seven times more addictive than cocaine.
The evils of sugar
"For the people I interviewed for the story, who are self confessed sugar ‘addicts’, their experience of addiction can definitely be compared to other addictions - their cravings have led to excessive weight gain, abnormal and dangerous behaviour, deep psychological issues and trauma, terrible guilt as a result of excessive consumption of sugar and the inability to kick the habit despite recognising the dangers of it."
In one case, a woman left her son sleeping at home alone at night whilst she went in search of sugar, said Munnik.
"If you are someone who feels you may have an addiction to sugar which is not being taken seriously or supported, you should tune in to see just how dangerous sugar addiction can be and hear other real life stories."
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