Alcohol. Cocaine. Heroin. Sugar.

Wait. Sugar?

It’s not a typo. Sugar, like any drug, is addictive. This is because it triggers the release of dopamine, among other neurotransmitters, which sends signals to your brain’s reward system and make you happy. There’s a fantastic TEDed video that explains it here:

UCSB students are lucky in that the dining commons prepare meals without adding any extra sugar. According to Danielle Kemp, the dietitian for the dining commons, there is a difference between natural and added sugars, but added sugars are the ones to worry about and the ones the dining commons makes an effort to eliminate.

“Residential Dining takes pride in the fact that we prepare the majority of our food from scratch. This means we have the option to control what goes into our food. We don’t add a lot of sugar to our recipes unless it is a dessert or bakery option,” she said.

Yet according to Jill Horst, the director of the dining commons, students consume an average of 1.35 desserts per card swipe, which equates to 101,853 desserts served per week. Each week, students also go through 14,918 ounces of sugary cereals and 21,895 pounds of fruit (which, while it only contains natural sugar, is still chock-full of fructose, one of the most addictive forms of sugar).

While it is true that students also consume an average of 2.75 main courses and 1.18 salads per swipe, it’s clear that students are unhesitatingly reaching for the sweets. What they may not realize is how it’s preventing them from making the most of what are supposed to be some of the best years of their lives:

1. It affects your grades (for the worse).

Consuming sugar in place of balanced meals can impair cognitive function because when you become resistant to insulin, the insulin receptors in your brain stop working properly. It becomes more difficult to learn, and you remember less. Essentially, sugar has the potential to do the same thing to your brain as does a major brain injury. (1)

2. It ruins a good time. 

Studies have shown that sugar has toxic effects on the liver similar to those of alcohol, which makes sense given that alcohol is derived from the fermentation of sugar. (2) If you eat a lot of sugar, then, you probably shouldn’t force your liver to work overtime on Halloween or during Deltopia. Sorry.

 3. Once a starving college student, always a starving college student. 

Hungry? Put down the cookie. Sugar doesn’t fill you up. It provides you with all of the calories but none of the nutrients, so you can keep eating cookies but never feel full. (3)

 4. You won’t be able to eat what you want. 

If you eat too much sugar all of the time, you may be diagnosed with diabetes as a result of high blood glucose. (4) You might not be able to eat some of your favorite foods, you’ll have to exercise more, you may eventually need to be put on dialysis for your kidneys, and the entire time, you’ll know that you single-handedly put yourself in that position.

5. You’ll feel self-conscious at the beach. 

Excess consumption of fructose induces resistance to leptin, a protein that regulates fat storage. (5) This means that when you eat that cupcake, your body decides to stop burning fat for you. More disturbing is the fact that leptin resistance is silent — it develops without any noticeable physiological differences, so you may not realize you’re resistant to leptin until you start gaining weight like crazy.

6. It can make your skin look like the moon. 

High glycemic index foods (those that spike your blood sugar quickly, like sugar) have been shown to not only aggravate acne, but to cause it too. (6) Dairy does the same thing, so brownies and milk might not be such a good idea after all, at least not on an everyday basis.

7. You’ll get wrinkles (sooner than you think). 

We all wanted to look older when we were little kids. Now we just want to look like we’re 21, but because it speeds up the aging process, sugar might leave us looking much older than that. (2)

8. It will break your heart (literally). 

Nobody’s thinking about developing hypertension when they’re twenty, but it’s a proven fact that eating sugar in excessive amounts alters your metabolism, which in turn triggers a structural remodeling of your heart and can result in heart disease. (2,7)

9. It makes you feel powerless. 

Sugar induces behaviors that mimic those induced by known addictive substances. These behaviors include bingeing, withdrawal, craving, and sensitization following abstinence. (8)

10. It can even give you cancer. 

Yes, cancer. Sustained high levels of sugars damage cells and thereby increase the risk of developing cancer. (9)

Still thinking about that pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream? Don’t worry. If you have a sweet tooth, it may not be your fault. Ghrelin, an enzyme that stimulates your appetite, turns on the reward system in the brain (this is nature’s way of making you eat). Ghrelin levels are inherited, and there is some evidence that a preference for sweet tastes and alcoholism may be genetically linked. Unfortunately, ghrelin also increases your susceptibility to giving into addictions, but this doesn’t mean you can’t control that sweet tooth.

Kemp, for example, advises limiting your sugar intake without depriving yourself of sugar completely.

“It is important to remember that the issue of consuming sugar doesn’t come from when we indulge in a sweet treat now and then but when we over-consume,” Kemp said. “Moderation is really important when it comes enjoying food rich in added sugar or even solid fats. It is important not to restrict or completely cut out groups of food because it may lead to overeating.”

How much is too much? The US Department of Agriculture recommends getting no more than 5 to 15 percent of your calories from solid fats and added sugars. (10) That’s not a whole lot. Don’t think you can go crazy and sweeten everything with artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, though.

According to Carrie Flack, a nutrition specialist for Student Health, all sweeteners—whether artificial or natural—have been shown to have some of the same effects on the body as sugar.

“Sugar does have an effect on your blood sugar. The non-nutritive sweeteners do not have an effect, but some studies have shown that your body reacts in the same way,” she said.

Even Stevia, the zero-calorie plant-derived sugar substitute that has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, isn’t perfect. (11) Unlike some artificial sweeteners, Stevia does not have any reported bad effects, according to Flack, but it still acts like sugar.

Ultimately, you don’t have to feel like you can never eat sugar (or sugar substitutes) again. Just make sure you don’t over-do it, and your college years will be better than you ever thought they could be.


1. Gomez-Pinilla, F.  (April 2, 2012). “’Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signaling and cognition.” The Journal of Physiology. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2012.230078 or

2. Lustig, Robert, Laura Schmidt, and Claire Brindis. (February 2, 2012). “Public health: The toxic truth about sugar.” Nature, 482. Retrieved from

3. Landgren, Sara, Jeffrey Simms, Dag Thelle, Elisabeth Trandhagen, Selena Bartlett, Jorgen Engel, and Elisabeth Jerlhag. (March 23, 2011). “The Ghrelin Signalling System Is Involved in the Consumption of Sweets.” PLOS ONE. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018170 or

4. American Diabetes Association. (December 6, 2013). High Blood Glucose. Retrieved from

5. Shapiro, Alexandra, Wei Mu, Carlos Roncal, Kit-Yan Cheng, Richard J. Johnson, and Philip J. Scarpace. “Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding.” American Journal of Physiology, volume 295. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00195.2008 or

6. Reilly, Rachel. (February 19, 2013). Long-term Research Links Dairy and High-Sugar Foods to Acne. Retrieved from

7. Sen, Shiraj et al. (May 17, 2013). “Glucose Regulation of Load-Induced mTOR Signaling and ER Stress in Mammalian Heart.” Journal of the American Heart Association. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.113.004796 or

8. Avena, Nicole, Pedro Rada, and Bartley Hoebel. (2009). “Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.” Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews, 32. Retrieved from

9. (February 1, 2013). Scientists link excess sugar to cancer. Retrieved from

10.  Foods and Food Components to Reduce. Retrieved from

11. Women’s Health Magazine. The Skinny on Sugar Substitutes. Retrieved from