A Little Too Sweet
It is interesting how long things take to change, for example, our understanding of sugar and it’s implications on our health. Walk into a supermarket and the shelves are crammed full of processed foods containing sugar, high fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates.
For so long we were told that sugar was good for us, a campaign very successfully led by the sugar industry. They found an easy demon in fat and for more than 30 years we were told it was a low-fat diet that would keep you healthy.
We have been the experiment and it has failed. It is not after all fat that is so bad for us but the large amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates that we now consume. It is evident in the obesity epidemic in any country adopting a Western Diet. (American) All the diseases we tried to avoid have only increased such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
And yet things are slow to change, why is that? It may be because we are hardwired to like sweet foods.
Our most beloved taste is the sweet flavour, it is our preferred flavour because it is the first one we experience. Mother’s milk is sweet (and fatty) and this sweet flavour often comforts and feels nurturing. That is one of the reasons why we often want something sweet and fatty when we feel down. My go-to is ice-cream!
Sweet foods are also safe foods. In nature, all plants that have a sweet flavour are safe for us to eat, like many fruits and vegetables. Although over time even these flavours have changed. Selectively choosing sweeter varieties and creating sweeter hybrids. It’s what we want.
Carbohydrates give us the sweet flavour. All foods that contain some carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars. Glucose is the simple sugar that our cells use for energy.
Fructose is another simple sugar that is naturally found in fruit and honey. It needs to be converted by the liver to glucose before it can be used. Which isn’t a problem if your only source of fructose is from fruit. High fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, contains large amounts of fructose which has been shown to affect the liver.
Another simple sugar is galactose, this combined with glucose is lactose found in milk. Table sugar is a combination of glucose and fructose.
Because our cells produce energy from glucose so efficiently and glucose is so readily available we will often desire this sweet flavour as a way to give us a quick energy boost.
We are so hardwired to the sweet flavour and food manufacturers know this, adding sweetness into almost everything, which is why we buy it. It is important to read labels when buying food that someone else has made. It isn’t always obvious where sugar will be as it sneaks into savoury foods too, like tinned foods, salad dressing and instant stock.
The sweet flavour has become so predominant in our food choices that our tastebuds have become dulled to the sweet flavour. You end up needing more sugary foods to give that sweet taste. That is why we end up having 3 teaspoons of sugar in our tea or coffee.
While we may have a natural inclination towards sweet foods that sweetness is all the sweeter for having foods that are salty, sour and bitter. (Salted caramel would be a bad example but it’s popular because it works.) If you take the time to really taste the food you eat, you will find most natural real foods have a combination of these flavours.
We need to re-train our tastebuds, get them used to foods that are not so sweet. The real bonus is that once you start to have less sweet foods you begin to notice that a lot of food we eat is very sweet.
Eventually, many processed foods will taste too sweet and you may prefer to make your own less sugar-laden options. In the end, nothing beats the full flavour package that you get from making your own food from real natural ingredients.