Sugar more addictive than cocaine, heroin, says author

GET A GRIP: Best-selling author Sarah Wilson is speaking at the Living Smart Festival.

GET A GRIP: Best-selling author Sarah Wilson is speaking at the Living Smart Festival.

SUGAR is more addictive than cocaine and heroin, author Sarah Wilson says.

Ms Wilson, who wrote the bestseller I Quit Sugar, said the sweet stuff was a "seductive toxin".

"The science is rolling in to show a lot of diseases and obesity are linked to sugar consumption," said Ms Wilson, who will appear at the Living Smart Festival in Lake Macquarie tomorrow.

The Hunter Region is among the nation's fattest, with about 373,000 overweight or obese adults, national health research found.

More than two in three people living in the Hunter weigh too much.

Health experts say that sugar, salt and fat are the major culprits in this epidemic.

University of Newcastle Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics Tracy Burrows said there was "emerging evidence to support that some foods might have addictive qualities", adding that sugar addiction was not scientifically proven.

"A lot of the addiction research for sugar has been done in animals," Dr Burrows, who is researching food addiction, said.

"But there's definitely people who feel they do have an addiction to food."

Research showed that "some susceptible individuals" displayed withdrawal symptoms, similar to coming off drugs, from cutting out foods they love, Dr Burrows said.

Dr Burrows plans to conduct research to profile which foods are addictive.

She will put people into an MRI scanner and examine what happens to their brains when they consume foods they feel are addictive to them.

University of Newcastle Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics Clare Collins said eating sugar was not the same as drug addiction, otherwise "we'd all have to check ourselves in" to rehab.

"We know lots of Australians could really lift their game on eating better," Dr Collins said.

"The latest Australian health survey results show, in general, more than a third of our kilojoules come from junk foods," she said.

"That's way too high."

The Australian Dietary Guidelines advise people to: "Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars, such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks".

Ms Wilson said the sugar problem was comparable to "the tobacco situation 50 years ago".

"Vested interests are spending a lot of money lobbying and propping up health institutions, so health guidelines for sugar are not changed," Ms Wilson said.

"Governments and health bodies are not going to be amending health guidelines in a hurry."

She said her book was called I Quit Sugar, "not you must quit sugar", and advised people to "experiment and try it for yourself".

"See if it makes a difference to your mood, energy levels and skin," she said.

"Within eight weeks, people will find a discernible difference in their cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels."

Dr Collins said excess weight gain "comes from eating excess anything".

"It's the weight gain, not eating sugar, that's leading to nasty diseases," she said.

However, she said "sugar, fat and salt are all bad guys hanging out together".

She said the tobacco comparison was a good one.

"It would help if the food regulatory system created a disincentive for all these tasty treats we don't seem to be able to get enough of.

"We can solve this if we really want to but it takes a mix of public health approaches - limiting supply and raising awareness that too much of any food leads to obesity.

"We're not doing a very good job on that."