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Are you a sucker for sweets and soda? Learn to break free.

Jan 3, 2003 -- There's no denying that we Americans love our sugary treats. Former President Ronald Reagan had to have jellybeans on his desk at all times. Vending machines in schools, offices, and almost everywhere else feed our desire to eat sweets throughout the day. With sales of sodas, candy, and other sweets soaring, it's clear that, as a nation, we are virtually addicted to sugar in all its glorious forms.

While sugar is not literally addicting, scientists long ago proved that people are born with a preference for sweets. This innate desire does not disappear as we grow older. Some people find it impossible to leave the dinner table without dessert; others can't fathom a day without chocolate. Many women blame hormonal surges for the sweets cravings they get around the same time each month.

The results of this sugar "addiction" are not always so sweet. Sugar and other sweeteners add calories with few other nutrients and have no doubt helped contribute to our near-epidemic of obesity. (Of course, sugar is not alone in promoting obesity -- a lack of exercise and excessive calories from many other sources share the blame.)

Cavities and Calories

Sugar has been blamed for everything from diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, and heart disease to disruptive behavior in the classroom. But sugar by itself will not cause any of these conditions -- except cavities.

"Sweets can definitely increase the risk of [cavities] when the sweetened substances pool around the teeth or sticky sweets adhere to the surface of the tooth," says Atlanta dentist James Sylvan, DDS.

Aside from that, a comprehensive review of scientific research, published in the journal Nutrition Research in 1997, showed that sugar is not a direct cause of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or hyperactivity. A more recent government report concurs that sugar is not by itself linked to any of those conditions. However, too many calories, in any form, can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The Blood-Sugar Roller Coaster

Changes in our behavior are often attributed to changes in our blood sugar levels. When you consume a meal made up of simple, refined carbohydrates -- like a doughnut or a soft drink -- the result is a spike in blood sugar. Your body responds to this spike by secreting large amounts of insulin to normalize your blood sugar level.

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