The recent obesity epidemic in the U.S. and other countries has caused U.S. researchers to look at the past couple of years to understand why we have sugar cravings. They studied laboratory animals and human beings to get some answers. Their findings have been surprising. So, what are the reasons why we crave sugar so much?

The U.S. National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases has cited 2017–2018 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey:

  • Nearly 1 in 3 adults (30.7%) are overweight.
  • More than 2 in 5 adults (42.4%) have obesity.
  • About 1 in 11 adults (9.2%) have severe obesity.
  • About 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 (16.1%) are overweight.
  • Almost 1 in 5 children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 (19.3%) have obesity.
  • About 1 in 16 children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 (6.1%) have severe obesity.

So, why do we crave sugar so much?

The Tongue

Early human beings had tongue receptors that could taste sugar. However, the modern tendency towards making everything very sweet seems to activate even more desires for sweet things and a craving for higher levels of sweetness. Before sugar became more widely available in the 17th century, human beings ate an average of 7 pounds of sugar per year, usually in the form of sweet foods like honey. The current annual consumption of sugar in the U.S. is about 125 pounds. 

Artificial sweeteners have worsened the problem because of the FDA’s approval of so-called high-intensity sweeteners (HIS). These sweeteners include those that boost the craving, such as aspartame, which is sweeter than natural sugar.

The Brain

Our brains are also re-wired due to sugar consumption, leading to cravings for sugar. The process still needs to be understood entirely. Still, it appears to be a brutal cycle of desire, reward, greater desire, an even bigger reward required, and so on. The ‘reward’ factor is both psychological and physiological.

You get rewarded when you eat sweets because they increase the amount of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine can be described as a ‘feel-good’ chemical that increases mood and relieves pain naturally. In this way, sweet things cause us to feel good. Therefore, the so-called ‘sugar high’ from eating sweet things is not just blood sugar but mood as well.

When were are younger, were are also rewarded. For example, if we ate all our dinner, our parents rewarded us with dessert. Sweets and treats are used to reward us during holidays and birthdays. Sometimes we also reward ourselves with food when we finish specific tasks. Also, if we are stressed, many people often handle that stress with food, drink, or a combination of both.

The problem is that the more sugar you consume, the more sugar you want until you begin to crave it, like an addict craves a fix.

When you struggle with a sweet tooth and crave sugary foods, try a sugar detox to remove all sweet things from your diet for a couple of days. Doing this will assist you in seeing if you can restrain your desires. Also, try to find other ways that don’t involve food to reward yourself. You will discover how much less stressful and more satisfying life can be when you are free of the sugar habit.


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Jeff Moji

Hi there. I'm Jeff Moji, an engineer, information technologist, and health enthusiast. I have set up this website to explore the best ways to keep fit and healthy as I grow older during this pandemic-prone time. Please keep in touch so we can exchange information and spur one another on.

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