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The Science of Sugar Craves

Sugar, while never considered virtuous, is getting even more of a bad rap these days. Recent studies have shown the downside of consuming too much sweet stuff, maligning it to the level of cigarettes, and linking it not only to diabetes and obesity, but potentially increased risks of hypertension, cancer, stroke, and other chronic diseases. What’s more, a recent paper revealed there was evidence all along linking it to chronic heart disease, but that sugar industry executives in the 1960s paid Harvard scientists to downplay its role and promote another culprit: fat.

Still, as a nation, we consume so much sugar. (The average person takes in 22 added teaspoons—88g—of sugar daily, nearly double of our daily recommended intake.) It turns out our sweet tooth is innate, a behavioral trait that dates back millions of years.

In our primitive hunter-gatherer days, a saccharine craving was a good thing. It’s what propelled our ancient ancestors to seek fruit, say wild blueberries or apples, when they were at their sweetest. This coincided with when they were ripest and had the highest nutrient density. More importantly, eating all that sucrose was a powerful mechanism for surviving the months to come. Sugar consumption stimulates the hormone insulin, and changes the array of bacteria that lives in the gut, both of which signal our bodies to make and store fat. They tell the body winter is coming and to get ready because calories are going to be scarce.

It was a remarkable process, but one that doesn’t quite jibe with modern life. We’re eating sugar and using this mechanism for 365 days of the year for a winter, or a time of calorie restriction, that never comes.

If you can’t go cold turkey just yet, you can still lower your intake by eating more healthy fats. Sweet and fatty foods are our two main desires. If you choose to eat more healthy fats, you’ll crave sweets less, we recommend eating cheese, chocolate (85 percent cacao or more), nuts and seeds, olive oil, grass-fed beef, butter, and eggs.

It’s also a good idea to avoid artificial sweeteners. Using a sugar substitute just reinforces our sweet tooth. Fake sweeteners can even be worse than sugar.A recent French study that showed those who favored artificially-sweetened beverages over sugar-sweetened ones had more than double the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

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