Scientific evidence shows that sugar acts on our bodies as a drug — not a food.

The addictive nature of so-called “natural” sweeteners like sugar and corn syrup is now well understood. Between 1909 and 1999, sugar consumption per person nearly doubled in the United States. In that time, individuals went from consuming approximately 80 pounds of added sweeteners per year to 152 pounds—64 pounds of which was high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) found in soda and processed foods. The use of artificial sweeteners is also on the rise, with the average American eating an estimated 20 pounds in 2012.

In addition to many varieties of sweeteners, refined flour and cereal products began to be heavily marketed in the 1960s, with a marked increase in consumption every decade since. Many people don’t realize that flour affects blood sugar the same way that sweeteners do and can be just as addicting. Research shows that a slice of white bread has the same effect on the body as five teaspoons of sugar, and two slices are equivalent to the sugar in a can of soda. In 2000, the average American ate 146 pounds of flour and cereal, compared to 113 pounds in 1967. By the end of the 20th century, Americans had the highest annual consumption of both sweeteners and flour compared to any other nation in the world. At that time, many food ‘experts’ believed that low-fat foods were healthy. But we have since learned that many of the foods we turn to in order to avoid fat are mostly comprised of sweeteners and flours—foods that cause our insulin to surge and leave us hungry within hours. Through these effects on our bodies, sugars and flours are driving the obesity epidemic.

In addition to impacting blood sugar, some foods can have morphine-like effects on the brain. Dairy products contain caseomorphins and wheat and other gluten grains contain gluteomorphins. In some people, these opiate-producing foods can become addictive and some individuals experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop eating them. To add to the problem, body mechanisms that normally tell us we are no longer hungry can be overridden by enticing combinations of flavor enhancers, artificial food coloring, additives, and sweet, floury, milky foods containing unhealthy fats. We know now that these foods can change brain chemistry, leading to cravings and driving the compulsion to overeat. The food industry appears to have developed a recipe for financial success by promoting products that combine the most addictive substances in highly palatable foods. They maximize profits by feeding our population’s addiction.

Which foods play the most important role in food addiction?