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Katie Couric tackles bitter facts about sugar addiction: What you should know

Is sugar addictive?
Is sugar addictive?
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It may seem obvious: If you want to lose weight, stop stirring sugar cubes into your coffee and sprinkling brown sugar on your oatmeal. But as Katie Couric revealed on her Jan. 24 talk show, the problem with sugar extends beyond your weight. And for some people, it can be life-threatening.

Katie's guest expert, Dr. Robert H. Lustig, is an American pediatric endocrinologist and author of "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease." He warns that much of the sugar in our food is hidden, a result of the food industry's adding the sweet stuff to foods ranging from fruit juice to salad dressing to bread.

One problem with all that hidden sugar: You can suffer from sugar addiction without even knowing it. And for everyone who thinks that all calories are created equal, Dr. Lustig warns that an excess of sugar can cause problems ranging from obesity to diabetes.

Fitness guru Kathie Dolgin served as an expert on the Jan. 24 episode. She told Katie that she is particularly concerned on its impact on young people. One of her tricks for making an impression: Fill a plastic bag with the amount of sugar that a treat contains. For example, one soda can contain 14 teaspoonfuls of sugar, which looks like a bag of cocaine.

And Dolgin feels that the impact of sugar on the brain is precisely like an addictive drug. She wants it out of schools and away from young people.

Katie also featured a family who admitted that they are addicted to sugar, as well as a young woman who says that she's the only one in her family to have conquered obesity: She lost more than 50 pounds by kicking the sweet stuff, but remains concerned about the health of her family.

The theory that sugar is addictive in the same way as drugs has been substantiated by recent research. For example, a study published in the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health tested the validity of the analogy between addictive drugs, like cocaine, and foods high in added sugar.

The researchers determined that consuming sugar and sweet foods results in a reward and craving cycle comparable to that of addictive drugs. In addition, the researchers discovered that "at the neurobiological level, the neural substrates of sugar and sweet reward appear to be more robust than those of cocaine (i.e., more resistant to functional failures)."

The connection between weight loss and sugar intake, however, remains unclear. Ironically, some studies have even linked consumption of artificial sweeteners, rather than sugar, to both weight gain and obesity.

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the best diet plans. Although various plans exist that completely eliminate sugar, the plans rated highest are Weight Watchers, which emphasizes flexibility and portion control and thus allows some sugar, and the DASH diet, which focuses on reducing sodium rather than sugar.

As for the plans that do eliminate sugar, including the Paleo diet and the Atkins diet, both were rated low on the U.S. News & World Report's listings.