Sugar Rush - Why The Good Life Tastes Sweet
I have a rather sweet tooth and it pains me to know my cravings are unhealthy. The media is always telling us how bad sugary treats are for us and body shaming celebrities who have an ounce of fat on their bodies. And yet as I sit her typing (one-handed) I’m slurping on a mango and passion fruit sorbet. Yes, it’s delicious. I’ve spent some time researching not only what harm sugar can do to our bodies but also why we crave it and when, sometimes, sweet things can actually be good for humans.
It pains me to write this but too much sugar is bad for you. Our bodies simply cannot process large quantities, especially in forms such as fructose which has become so popular in the confectionary world. Fructose is found in fruit but in large quantities our metabolisms can do nothing but turn it to fat. Most manufactured sweet foods contain far more fructose than would ever occur naturally. Glucose is the other common sugar molecule but this is not only easier to digest but also needed by our bodies in a way that fructose is not. Excessive fructose has been linked to obesity, heart disease, liver problems, type II diabetes and some forms of cancer. Additionally, while the consumption of glucose will satiate a human’s desire for sweetness of food, fructose will not and we will continue to eat more of these products, often reaching an unhealthy level.
Now onto why we crave the taste of something sweet. The human tongue tastes five flavours: salt, bitter, sour, umami (savoury) and, my personal favourite, sweet. Scientists have explained that we are naturally drawn towards sweet flavours because of evolution. We evolved from apes and Neanderthals whose diets were heavily fruit-based. Fruit is a natural and healthy source of sugar which is why our monkey ancestors spent their days searching for the sweet, ripe fruit which rewarded them with more energy than unripe, bitter fruit. There is even evidence from research conducted by zoologists and biological anthropologists like William McGrew to show how chimpanzees have been observed using sticks to extract honey from inhabited beehives, suffering stings just for a morsel of this sweet substance. It seems our sweet tooth is quite literally in our DNA.
So is it all bad news? No! Although I said about that fructose is found in fruit, you don’t have to stop eating apples and oranges and mangos and pineapples and whatever else you choose to snack on. The fructose which is causing all of the health problems across the globe is a concentrated, added sugar. Think about all those items in the supermarket which now proudly boast “now with no added sugar”. That’s their way of saying “sorry for pumping you full of unnecessary, manufactured sugars for years before some legislation said we couldn’t”. Be careful, however, because many ‘diet’ options have merely substituted naturally occurring sugars for synthetic replacements, the long term effects of which we do not know. Natural sugars such as those found in fruit and consumed by humans, Neanderthals and apes for millennia, are perfectly healthy because our bodies have quite literally evolved to be able to process sugar in this form.
The other common form of sugar is glucose which is found in starchy food like potatoes and grain. As with fruit, these are foodstuffs which have been part of our diet for thousands of years. Glucose is actually good for your body. We need it for energy and it is used by all of our cells to reproduce and repair themselves as well as generating movement. While our bodies can do this without being fed sugar by breaking down our body’s existing fat reserves (yay) and creating its own sugar called gluconeogenesis, the most efficient and favoured fuel source for cells is glucose.
Aside from fruit, other foods which naturally contain sugars and can abate our sweet cravings include vegetables and daily products. Food to be wary of because of their surprisingly high added sugar quantities which you wouldn’t necessarily suspect include crackers, salad dressing and cereal. There is no nutritional value to most forms of raw sugar which is manufactured from sugar cane or sugar beet. Some scientists have identified some basic nutrition in honey but it’s minimal. Sugar does, however, give you energy. The trouble is, if you don’t do something energetic which requires this energy, your body will simply convert the sugar to fat to be stored. Our body can use sugar efficiently if we give it something to do with it but if we don’t, we’ll just put on weight.
Insulin is released when our bodies detect sugar and this enables the sugar to be stored in either our muscles or liver as glycogen or as fat elsewhere on our bodies. When our bodies release too much insulin, which sometimes happens when someone ingests a lot of sugar over a short period of time, we experience a sugar crash. Although this is a result of us eating too much sugar, our body’s reaction to it is a craving for more sugar. That’s because sugar is addictive. Over time, high sugar diets can lead to diabetes despite the fact that we eat it because our bodies tell it needs more.
Which brings me neatly back to my blog title. Sugar makes us feel good because our bodies crave it. When we eat it, therefore, we’re satisfied. However, due to its addictive nature, we can also wean ourselves off sugar. The less we eat, the less we crave. Apparently. I’ve not tried, of course. I’m too much of an addict for that. For now, sugar makes me happy and being in a happy mood makes me a nicer, kinder person. But it is also important to note that I do try to lead an active life, do exercise regularly and I don’t eat entire packets of Haribo before going to bed. Usually.
Eat sugar then:
Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.