Why we crave sugar is not necessarily a case of self-indulgence.
Not everyone is equally likely to develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease since a genetic component causes some people to be more susceptible than others.
As a whole, we could do with less sugar. Sugar is addictive because our brain registers it as pleasurable. The food industry ingeniously hides sugar in our food and we have withdrawal symptoms if we don’t get enough. Diabetes and cancer numbers are directly linked to the increase in consumption.
That said, many of us actually eat way too much sugar and burden our bodies with it to the point that sooner or later, we will have problems. If not diabetes, then some other condition.
At least in theory, the solution seems simple: stop eating so much sugar or cut out sugar entirely. In practice, however, this is not so easy.
Read on to understand how our taste buds have evolved to understand why we crave sugar, how sugar is disguised in so many products, and how we must change our own perspective to do something about our sugar addiction.
We’ll also touch on the consequences of too much sugar in our diets, such as the increased risk of diabetes and cancer.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why we crave sugar: Introduction
- 2 We have all become accustomed to added sugars
- 3 We can start by changing our perspective
- 4 Consequences of sugar: Diabetes and other health problems
- 5 Why we crave sugar: Conclusion
Why we crave sugar: Introduction
Our ancestors were taught over millennia to eat just as much sugar as possible to protect against impending food shortages.
The prehistoric hunter-gatherer did well to take in all the sources of sugar he could get, as this assured him of the necessary energy.
Today, the situation has completely changed: we move less than ever before (and thus need less energy to get through the day). Yet paradoxically, we still eat sugar in abundance.
The fact that we are so susceptible to sugar also has to do with the effect that sugar has on our brains, more specifically on the parts of the brain responsible for pleasure.
There are plenty of studies showing that sugar is addictive and causes withdrawal symptoms, cravings, headaches, lack of energy, and irritability once we get used to it and, for some reason, don’t get our sugar fix. That’s why we crave sugar.
We have all become accustomed to added sugars
The result is that we have entire generations who can’t get off sugar. Although more and more people are becoming aware of the problem, more will be needed to solve it.
Sugar is often disguised on food labels
The chemical term for ordinary table sugar is sucrose. But sugar actually comprises a whole group of molecules, all made up of different basic blocks of glucose and fructose.
For example, sucrose is a disaccharide composed of two monosaccharides (glucose and fructose).
But you can find dozens of other names on the packaging that are used to indicate (or rather, to cover up) that sugar has been added:
- candy syrup,
- apple juice concentrate,
- caster sugar,
- invert sugar,
- grape sugar,
- maple syrup,
- fruit concentrate,
- grape juice concentrate,
- agave syrup.
There are more than 50 different names for sugar, so it is essential to be able to read food labels and recognize if sugar has been added.
This way, you can already recognize most of the sugars:
- obviously, all terms in which sugar is explicitly named;
- all words ending in “ose,” such as glucose, fructose, dextrose, etc.; and
- all terms containing the words syrup, honey, or nectar.
Parents versus children
Our entire society would do well to limit sugar consumption. This starts with how we bring up our youngest.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. Just stand at the supermarket checkout line with your little toddler.
There are racks full of candy, at children’s eye level, consisting of nothing but sugars and some chemicals for some extra color and flavor.
You need to be a strong parent to deny your child so many goodies.
Is it a coincidence that the candy can be found at the cash register next to the smokes and spirits? There seems to be something on offer for every addict (in the making)!
Policymakers versus sugar lobbies
There is also a great responsibility on policymakers to do more to curb the use of sugar by the food industry. But, of course, that industry is not just going to roll over.
Lobbyists eagerly wave studies that claim to prove sugar is not the actual cause. Indeed, some studies minimize or even question the negative effects.
Questionable research by sugar lobbies
However, these studies were funded by those same sugar and food industries.
Actually, we are now in a similar situation as we were with smoking. People knew all too well that smoking has disastrous consequences.
But by spouting doubt and referring to dubious studies, people were able to deny for a time that there was a causal link between smoking and cancer.
Fortunately, the curtain is slowly coming down on those dubious sugar studies. It is gradually being realized that most of these studies were poorly conducted and we understand why we crave sugar.
They were even deliberately skewed to obtain the desired outcome, claiming there was “insufficient evidence” to point to sugar as the culprit.
Policy proposals to limit sugar consumption
Proposals that go in the right direction are indeed suggested. For example, a sugar tax on products with too much added sugar.
In these discussions, the sugar lobby invariably argues that “everyone is free to make their own choices.”
How fair and ethical is it to first get people addicted and then put all the responsibility on those same consumers and say: “It’s your own fault”?
You have to encourage people to live healthier lives for that reason. Yet, at the same time, you must be careful to attach sanctions to it, such as higher health insurance premiums, for example.
We can start by changing our perspective
A key strategy for reducing sugar consumption is to stop thinking it’s normal to have sugar added to everything.
If we reduce that little by little, we get our original taste back and start liking fruits like strawberries and berries, for example, without the need for sugar.
Of course, the best place to start is with babies or even earlier, as pregnant women who eat sugar naturally pass it on to their fetus through the placenta. Some babies may be used to the taste of sugar from birth.
Consequences of sugar: Diabetes and other health problems
Is sugar at the root of type 2 diabetes?
There is no doubt about it. Type 2 diabetes cases have tripled in the U.S. since 1970, following very precisely the wave of rising sugar consumption.
(Source: American endocrinologist R. Lustig)
We see the same pattern everywhere: the more sugar eaten, the more diabetes. Alright, but there are medicines to cure diabetes, right?
Actually, no drugs can cure diabetes. They can only help control the symptoms. The only way to really tackle diabetes is a lifestyle change.
Moreover, diabetes is often associated with a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) and liver problems.
You could end up with a so-called fatty liver because the liver can no longer process large amounts of sugar.
If your metabolism gets even more messed up, it can culminate in metabolic syndrome.
In addition, the medications you take to control diabetes have several nasty side effects that also increase your risk of a variety of other chronic conditions, for example.
Therefore, the life expectancy of someone with diabetes is significantly lower. So the good news is that you can actually do something about it by changing your lifestyle.
Increased risk of cancer and other complications
Diabetes, and in later stages, often cardiovascular disease, is not the only problem. Sugar also has properties that increase cancer risk and accelerate the aging process.
This is done through the growth hormone IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1). For example, women with high levels of IGF are seven times more likely to develop breast cancer.
Among other things, men with high IGF levels are nine times more likely to develop prostate cancer. Cancer cells also need sugar to grow.
Sugar can also cause proteins to stick together by forming so-called cross-links.
This can cause kidney problems and lead to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (which can also be caused by a dysfunctional colon system).. Namely, our immune system perceives these interlocked molecules as foreign to our bodies.
Sugar can also eventually affect our nerves and blood vessels, which in turn can lead to blindness (cataracts or cataracts) and erectile dysfunction.
Indeed, contrary to popular belief, erectile dysfunction often has more to do with poor blood flow than with psychological factors.
Why we crave sugar: Conclusion
As prehistoric humans, food used to be in short supply. Whenever a sugary food source presented itself, they would naturally take in as much as possible to replenish energy levels and increase their chances of survival.
Though we have evolved from then, that urge for sugar is still with us. The food industry and accompanying marketing campaigns have intelligently taken advantage of this to sell more products.
As a result, many processed foods contain sugar in one way or another, often disguised under different names on the food labels and this is why we crave sugar.
However, eating too much sugar has disastrous consequences for our health. For example, it increases the risk of diabetes, cancer, and other health problems.
Though lawmakers recognize the problem, putting policies into practice so the population would consume less sugar is easier said than done.
Therefore, we must become more aware and consciously choose to consume less sugar to wean ourselves off this acquired taste.
This starts with the education and upbringing of our children. In fact, it even begins before birth, as pregnant mothers pass on the consumed sugar to their unborn babies.
Entire generations would do well by making a conscious change in their diet and lifestyle to become less dependent on added sugars, thereby improving the health of their own and future generations.