Spurred by all the bad news about sugar, writer Daniel Duane goes without it for a month to determine whether the payoff is worth the pain.
Before I abandoned all sugar for a month, I thought it would be easy. I’d read the headlines, after all. I knew a diet high in sugar was a factor in heart disease and almost every other health nightmare, so I’d long since replaced the brown sugar on my oatmeal with olive oil and salt (which, I must say, makes for a remarkably delicious breakfast). I’d stopped putting ketchup on my burgers and fries, and I’d even cut my chocolate-chip-cookie binges to maybe once or twice a week. I figured going that extra mile—avoiding absolutely all sugar—would be as simple as ending my meals with good French cheese. But the cold-turkey approach turned out to be a lot harder than I’d imagined.
First of all, it was just plain tough to quit, for reasons well understood by science. A recent study at Connecticut College, for example, involved feeding rats Oreo cookies, cocaine or morphine at a particular place on a maze (lucky rats). The big surprise was that Oreo cookies produced emotional attachments to the place of treat delivery on par with hard drugs, which explains the deep emotional yearning I began to feel every time I passed the Little Bee bakery during my first week of self-denial. Other research has shown that sugary foods light up the same pleasure-and-reward brain circuitry as opiates. Gorging on sugar changes those parts of the brain in much the way drug addiction does; cutting off sugar produces similar markers of withdrawal.