We all know how it goes – you tell yourself in the morning that you’ll eat healthily that day, but then something happens and you can’t keep away from the sweet cupboard. Before you know it, you’re full of delicious chocolate and feeling much better. But why is sugar so hard to resist? And what makes it so enjoyable?
Our sugar cravings go back millions and millions of years. Our primate ancestors survived on sugar-rich fruit, evolving to like the riper fruit because it had higher sugar levels and therefore supplied more energy. Vegetables were the most abundant foods, but supplied little energy in comparison to fruit, which was much harder to come across.
Sugar also helps us store fat, which was a huge advantage at a time when food was scarce. Essentially, those primates who consumed the most calories were the ones best equipped to avoid starvation and pass on their genes.
Fast forward to the 13th Century, and sugar was so rare and expensive that only royalty could afford it. In fact, Henry III once tried to order three pounds of the sweet stuff, but wasn’t sure such luxury could even be found in England.
By the 19th Century, this had turned on its head and it was the working classes who consumed the most sugar. As the price dropped, the working classes started using it in their baking and puddings. They also started adding it to their tea – a tradition that still exits.
More recently, the development of technology has allowed us to grow fruits a-plenty. Add to this the fact we extract and concentrate the sugar within the fruits – for instance making boiled sweets from an orange – and it’s a lot easier to consume too much sugar these days. Most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot, but it’s a very different story these days thanks to farming and technology.
Sugar is actually the brain’s main source of fuel. When we eat it, certain taste buds send a signal to the brain. This signal triggers the brain’s reward system and dopamine is released – a feel-good brain chemical that reinforces the behaviour and makes us want to repeat it.
How Much is too Much?
The UK consumes almost three million tonnes of sugar a year – that’s the equivalent to around 230,000 double-decker buses. According to the NHS guidelines, we should be consuming a maximum of 30 grams of sugar a day – or seven sugar cubes. We’re currently way over that limit.
What can we do?
There are a few ways you can try and limit your sugar intake. We’re not saying give up chocolate, but you could make small changes. If you take sugar in your tea or coffee, try gradually reducing it or swapping it for sweetener.
Many breakfast cereals are high in sugar so try to consciously switch to those with no added sugar, such as porridge or wholewheat cereal biscuits. Cut back on condiments, choose healthier snacks and avoid too many fizzy drinks. Remember – balance is key and a little bit of sugar is fine, but try to be aware of what you’re consuming.Last modified: July 27, 2021