What Is It About Sugar That Makes Us Crave It So Much?
For many of us, we think of sugar as almost an essential part of our diet
We can't imagine living without it.
However, many of us are also well aware of just how bad too much of it can be for us
An excess intake of sugar has been proven to lead to dental problems, obesity, liver damage and all kinds of other health risks you definitely want to stay away from.
Us desserts lovers really don't have it easy.
Sugar has also been proven to be very addictive
You're definitely not imagining the urges you get after having a cookie to grab another.
Sugar addiction has proven to be a very real thing and just how addictive it is might surprise you. People who can't control their cravings for sugar have even been shown to exhibit similar behaviours and withdrawal symptoms to drug addicts.
One of the most referenced studies to date showing just how addictive the sweet goodness can be is a 2007 study showing the effect of sugar and cocaine on rats. In the study, researchers had kept the rats in cages where they were given access to two levers; one giving them a hit of cocaine and one containing sweetened water. The researchers wanted to see which lever the rats would have a preference for. Before the actual test was done, the rats were allowed to sample each product, so that they would have had prior exposure to both the substances.
By the end of the study, it was shown that 94% of the rats had a preference for the sweetened water.
And though the study had only been carried out on rats, it is strongly believed that humans are likely to have the same response when given the choice of sugar or cocaine. And with sugar so readily available in our environment, it's hard to sometimes even realise the actual severity of our addiction.
But if sugar is so bad for you, why does your body crave it? Shouldn't your body want what's best for you?
Well, to put it simply, you can blame your ancestors.
Back in time...
Centuries ago, our ancestors lived in a time when food was scarce. They didn't get to have breakfast, lunch and dinner like we did. They ate whatever they could find, whenever they could find it. So it was important that the few foods they were consuming were high in energy. Sugar, being a basic carbohydrate and thus a good form of energy, was the perfect thing they needed.
Since having too much sugar in our bloodstream is toxic, the bodies of our ancestors eventually evolved to be able to rapidly convert most of the sugar we consume into fat. This was an advantage at the time, since fat stores in the body were a vital form of energy in times when they couldn't get enough food. So sugar wasn't just a source of energy for them, it was a tool to help them store fat. And though it seems like a bad thing to us now, having a good amount of fat stored back then was seen as an advantage.
Our brain also releases feel good chemicals when you consume sugar
You know that feeling of contentment you get when you eat a piece of chocolate? You aren't imagining it.
Your brain releases the feel-good chemical, dopamine, whenever you consume sugar, making you feel all warm and happy inside. In the past, this served as good motivation for hunter-gatherers to seek out that delicious-sugary-goodnessy feeling.
This contributes to why we love the taste of sweetness. It's a sign that we're getting the energy our body needs!
Just imagine if someone hated sugar back then. There was no way they'd be able to survive or compete with everyone else.
And even though we're now in a world where sugar is easier than ever to obtain, our brains haven't exactly gotten with the programme
For many years, our cravings had worked well for us.
The sweetest foods we ate were usually fruits or from plant-based sources. And that was fine. Gobbling down fruits and veggies everyday (if you could even get that much) was not a cause for concern. However, chugging down cans of soda and bars of chocolate everyday (a feat you could definitely accomplish) is an entirely different story.
The world we live in has evolved, but our brains just haven't caught up.
So what can you do about your sugar cravings?
Learn some lessons from how your ancestors lived.
Eat sugar in small amounts and try your best to practice an active lifestyle.
The World Health Organisation recommends that both adults and children limit their sugar intake to less than 10% of their total energy intake. For additional health benefits, they recommend further reducing it to below 5%. If you consume a 2,000 calorie diet, this amounts to roughly 50 grams (about 12 teaspoons) and 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of sugar respectively each day.
All in all, sugar in moderate amounts is fine
Just make sure you don't overdo it.
However, keeping your sugar cravings at bay is getting too hard, satisfy your sweet tooth with some of these guilt-free desserts: