Can You Get Addicted to Sugar?

09 Mar 2018

Discover the distinction between craving and addiction, and learn how you can manage your sugar intake. Sarah Sinaram, Head of Nutrition and Dietetic Services Department at Mount Alvernia Hospital, enlightens us.


At present, there is insufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that sugar may be physically addictive, according to Sarah.

“However, it is also important to note that there is a clear distinction between the popular use of the word ‘addiction’ – as in ‘I love cheese, I’m so addicted to it!’, which involves an element of exaggeration, and the clinical definition of addiction, which should not be used flippantly,” she clarifed.

That said, sugar cravings are real and are indicative of a lack of nutrients. Sarah explains the causes for these cravings and provides tips on how to control them.


Cause #1
Irregular or missed meals or under-eating can cause cravings. Irregular meals or insufficient energy intake deprive your brain and body of fuel. This sets you up to crave starchy or sugary foods for energy.

Solution: Have small meals at regular intervals throughout the day, say every four to five hours. Most people find this stabilises their energy and prevents impulse and binge eating. Eating a healthy snack before you run out of energy can help prevent sugar cravings.

Cause #2
Insufficient protein and fat in your diet can cause cravings, as carbohydrates and sugars are the body’s first fuel source. If your diet primarily consists of carbs, it will be utilised within two hours of intake, leaving you feeling hungry soon after.

Solution: Have well balanced meals that include proteins and some healthy fats. These macronutrients will help you feel fuller for longer, keeping sugar cravings at bay.

Cause #3
Your carbohydrate intake is mainly refined or processed, which will leave you feeling hungry soon after.

Solution: Opt for unrefined, whole grains, which have more dietary fibre and a lower glycaemic index.

Cause #4
Emotional eating can manifest as cravings. No amount of sugar can satisfy your emotional needs.

Solution: Explore other ways of feeling good, such as taking a brisk walk or picking up a hobby.


The truth is, we need sugar in our diet for energy. However, we should be mindful of the amount we consume. While sugar is consumed directly in beverages and sweets, it is also used in food preparation and cooking. In addition, we consume sugar as a carbohydrate in foods such as rice and noodles.

“Added sugar should contribute to no more than ten percent of your dietary energy. This translates to approximately 40-55g (8-11 teaspoons) daily. This limit includes sugar added to beverages as well as foods such as cakes and candies,” shared Sarah.

If you find yourself craving for a dessert right after a meal in a hawker centre, Sarah suggests opting for a serving of fruit or a healthier alternative such as iced jelly with mixed fruit or cheng tng.


Sugar is not confined to sweets. It is also found in daily staples such as rice, noodles, gravy and chilli sauce, to name a few. Unlike its obvious presence in ice-cream, candy and sugary sodas, it can occur in surprising amounts in savoury foods.

Beware of these tasty traps, and eat in moderation.

Article contributed by Ms Sarah Sinaram, Nutrition and Dietetics Manager at Mount Alvernia Hospital. Click here to learn more about our Nutrition and Dietetic services. 

This article is taken from our My Alvernia Magazine Issue #33. Click here to read the issue on our website or on Magzter.