The MÖ Aesthetic Clinic

The White Stuff

The White Stuff

  • It is cheap
  • It is legal
  • It is readily available
  • It is socially acceptable
  • It tells our bodies sweet little lies
  • It is SUGAR and it can be highly addictive…


Eating sugary foods lights up your brain on an MRI in the same way that Cocaine or Heroin would, and it makes up about 13% of our daily caloric intake. (5% being the current recommendation) Sugar’s addictiveness is not only a matter of social acceptance and availability or, I would even go so far as to say, almost unavoidability, but it is physically addictive. Sugar affects both our brains and our bodies.

Sugar is the generalized name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food.  Sugars are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose and galactose. The granulated sugar we most often use as food is sucrose, a disaccharide. (In the body, sucrose hydrolyses into fructose and glucose.) Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. Longer chains of sugars are called oligosaccharides. Chemically-different substances may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. Some are used as lower calorie food substitutes for sugar (artificial sweeteners).

How Sugar Affcts Our Brain

The pleasure centres of the brain are controlled by a neurotransmitter called DOPAMINE. Sugar is a food substance that we term HYPERPALATABLE. These are foods that stimulate the pleasure centres in our brain, bringing about a release of Dopamine, and resulting in a pleasurable sensation. Unfortunately, the brain reacts to sugar in the same way as it reacts to Cocaine. The brain develops a tolerance, requiring ever larger quantities of the White Stuff to bring about the pleasurable response and resulting in desensitisation, overconsumption and addiction.

As bad as all this sounds… what, you may ask, is the real problem here?

As Dopamine receptors decrease, the activity in the part of the brain responsible for planning and rational decision making also decreases. The sugar addiction literally makes it more difficult to make sensible decisions. (So not only does the body now need more and more sugar to get the pleasurable result, but it becomes less and less able to make a sensible decision about the amount of sugary foods consumed!).

How Sugar Affects Our Body

LEPTIN is a hormone in our bodies that signals our brain that we have eaten enough. It is the “fullness” hormone.  Leptin is produced in our fat cells. Consequently the more fat cells we have the more Leptin we produce. Leptin signals the brain that we have enough energy and that it needs to get moving. An unhealthy lifestyle and bad eating habits can eventually mess up the Leptin-signalling system, disrupting the “full” signal and overriding the signal to stop eating.

GHRELIN is the “hunger” hormone. It is a peptide produced by ghrelin cells in the gastrointestinal tract and functions as a neuropeptide in the central nervous system. Ghrelin also plays a significant role in regulating the distribution and rate of use of energy. When the stomach is empty, ghrelin is secreted. When the stomach is stretched, secretion stops. It acts on the hypothalamic brain cells both to increase hunger, and to increase gastric acid secretion and gastrointestinal motility to prepare the body for food intake. Research shows that foods high in sugar (especially drinks) artificially boost ghrelin levels, fooling the body into believing it is hungry.

Another regulatory hormone is INSULIN.  Insulin is released by the pancreas in response to increased blood sugar and facilitates the transport of glucose into the cells of your body. It also signals the liver to convert glucose into glycogen for storage.  When glycogen stores are maxed out, increased insulin levels stimulate conversion of glucose into fat for long-term storage in fat cells. Most importantly, Insulin acts as an adiposity signal to the brain, i.e., it tells the brain whether or not you should eat and informs the brain about the energy status of your body.

So, very generally speaking, Ghrelin tells the body when to eat, Leptin tells the body when to stop eating and Insulin controls the uptake and distribution of the energy.

When we constantly overeat or choose sugary foods, we override these signals, becoming obese. Being obese causes the body to become Insulin resistant, this Insulin resistance means we constantly feel hungry, we over eat, we override the Leptin signal and it all falls apart. The hunger hormones run riot and unopposed which is why consistent sugar overload stimulates hunger and cravings.

How often have we heard or said the following:

“Eat all your dinner and you can have pudding”

“Here, have a sweetie, and you will feel better”

“Have a cup of sweet tea and you will calm down”

“Congratulations! I will bring the cake!”


We use sugar in various forms as a reward, a bribe, a consolation, a comfort, a relief, a celebration… we quite literally sugar coat everything!

As a small part of a healthy balanced diet Sugar does not pose too much of a problem. However, our foods have become so laden with hidden sugars that it is no longer a question of choice. We are not simply deciding whether we should have a teaspoon of sugar in our tea or not. On average we are consuming about 238 teaspoons per week and most of it is coming from hidden sources. It is now widely considered to be the sugar and not only the fat content of our diets that is making us obese, hypertensive and prone to illness.

We all know that soft drinks, ice ream and confectionary is laden with sugar, but sugar is also in the most unlikely places….

Low fat and so-called diet foods often contain extra sugar to make them taste and feel like the real deal. Sugar is also popping up in savoury foods, ready made pasta sauces and pre-packaged meals. Sugar is widely found in yoghurts, protein bars, bottled teas, shop bought bread, meat sauces, smoothies, breakfast cereals and vinaigrette. Honestly, the list is almost endless.

All is not lost however, and there are ways in which we can cut down on our sugar intake. The most sensible way would be to eat as naturally as possible and make our meals from scratch. We can try to avoid foods that come pre prepared (this will have the added benefit of cutting out a lot of colourants, preservatives and chemicals from your diet) We can also read labels and learn to spot the sugars hiding in the food! They often come with cute names that don’t sound like sugar and often end in -OSE watch out for glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose - these are all forms of sugar, as are honey, agave, molasses and syrups like corn syrup and rice syrup.

Also, when reading an ingredient list, the ingredients are listed in order of % composition. This means most comes first on the list. For instance if you have a jar of jam in your hands and the ingredient list starts with sugar and then goes on to list strawberries…do you get the picture?

Another tip is to look at the breakdown of Carbohydrates on the label. It will tell you total carbohydrates and then give you a % of which is sugar. This includes both natural and added sugars; less than 5g per 100g is low, more than 15g per 100g is high.

Tips on Cutting Down

Take it slowly. Do not try to go cold turkey; you will only sabotage your own best efforts and land up bingeing and eating more sugar than ever as your brain screams for its hit and your blood glucose fluctuates wildly!

Be wary of ‘sugar-free’ foods. These often contain synthetic sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin and aspartame. Although these taste sweet, they don’t help curb a sweet tooth so they tend to send confusing messages to the brain, which can lead to over-eating. I will discuss the mechanics of this on another day.

Balance your carbohydrate intake with lean protein like fish, chicken and turkey - protein foods slow stomach emptying, which helps manage cravings. They allow the body to normalise the leptin, ghrelin and insulin levels we spoke about earlier so that we know when we are hungry and when we are full.

Avoid “diet” and “low fat” foods and rather have a smaller portion of the regular variety to avoid the mixed signals these products send to the brain.

Eat slowly, meal times should be relaxed and enjoyable not a race to get the plate clean.

Stop eating before you feel overfull. Allow your body the time to get the correct signals through. If you are truly still hungry thirty minutes after your meal, then have a little more. ALSO, remember what we said about the thirst signals last time and try having some water after your meal.

Back in the first paragraph I mentioned that the current daily allowance for sugar is about 5% of your daily caloric intake. For an adult this equates, very roughly, to about 6 teaspoons. Considering that the average can of fizzy drink contains around 9 teaspoons alone should go someway to highlighting what we are up against.