Dr. Nicole Avena is a leading research neuroscientist on food addiction, specifically sugar.
Everyone loves sugar! It’s given to children as a reward for braving the doctor visit and makes an appearance at every birthday party. We use sugar to celebrate achieving goals and/or to boost ourselves up when we’re sad, lonely, depressed, dejected or just plain tired!
The average American eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day (6-8 is considered safe)! What makes sugar addiction so hard to see is the way sugar hides in society (as something good, as a reward) and in our foods (especially processed foods). But the truth is sugar acts on the brain the same way as drugs, such as nicotine, morphine or heroin - creating highs and lows, withdrawals, craving, and binging. And like a drug, the body needs more and more sugar in order to get the desired effect, hence leading to more and more consumption of sugar, which affects mood, influences how we think and feel, and over time seriously affects our health.
Listen in to Dr. Avena’s conversation with Susan and check out her book Why Diets Fail: Because You’re Addicted to Sugar to become more knowledgeable about sugar!
Meet This Episode's Guest
Dr. Nicole Avena
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction. She is a pioneer in the field of food addiction, and it was her seminal research work that jump started this exciting new field of exploration in medicine and nutrition. She is also an expert in diet during pregnancy, and childhood nutrition.
Dr. Avena received a Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience from Princeton University in 2006. She then completed her postdoctoral fellowship in 2010 at the prestigious Rockefeller University in New York City, an all-research institution that lays claim to having had 24 Nobel Prize winners on its staff over the years.
Dr. Avena presently is Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and a Visiting Professor in Health Psychology at Princeton University. She has published over 90 scholarly journal articles on topics related to diet, nutrition and overeating, and she frequently presents her research findings at scientific conferences and University symposia. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She has received research funding from prestigious sources, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Eating Disorders
Dr. Avena’s book, Why Diets Fail (2014, Ten Speed Press) reviews the research on food addiction and provides a way in which people can remove added sugars and carbohydrates from their diet. She has another best-selling book, What to Eat When You’re Pregnant (2015, Ten Speed Press) that provides mom’s-to- be with nutritional advice on what to eat to ensure they and their baby are healthy. Her next book, What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler (released in May 2018), covers nutrition for babies who are just beginning to eat, and offers science-based advice and practical tips on how to get your baby to eat healthy foods, like vegetables. She has also been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts, and has been filmed for several documentaries on the obesity epidemic. Her work has been featured on the cover of National Geographic (Sept ’17), as well as in Time Magazine, Bloomberg Business Week, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, and many other periodicals.
Dr. Avena is a member of the Random House Speakers Bureau. She has a TED-ED talk (below), How Sugar Affects Your Brain, which was ranked #2 most watched (over 7 million views). Her video has been praised by educators and public health groups. She consults for many policy groups, pharmaceutical companies and baby-food manufacturers.
Dr. Avena has a blog on Psychology Today called Food Junkie, which explains relevant research findings in an accessible way. She also blogs for The Huffington Post.