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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Ain’t She (Bitter) Sweet?

There is a well-meaning relative in my life (we all have at least ONE, right?) that still carries a torch for the “No sugar. Ever!” campaign and shows no signs of ever letting up the lectures against it, despite having lived as many decades as a squid has arms and the ability to be just as slippery when it comes to covert personal sugar consumption (“Oh, YOU have the pie.  I’ll just take a taste.”  “A good ice cream counter malt won’t have any sugar in it.”)  When I was young, this well-meaning relative insisted (and pardon me for paraphrasing) that sugar was of the devil’s doing and had no business being in one’s house.  Heaven help the poor guests that visited, because they could have all the coffee they wanted, as long as they wanted it (or choked it down) black as the inky water surrounding our friend the squid.  Still, evil sugar managed to slide in now and again – but the emotional trouncing and anti-sugar sermon that came later made its appearance not so sweet.sugar-cubes-484

Well-meaning relative also said, and this time I quote, “Introducing sugar to a young brain only sets them up for an unnecessary lifetime of craving sweets” believing that no exposure (zero/nada/zilch) would ensure never developing the dreaded sweet tooth.

Well, well, well.  Liking the occasional sweet as I do, and loving science and neurology maybe even a bit more than that, I went on a little fact-finding mission (tea and semi-sweet chocolate in hand).

First off, let’s get one basic truth about our tongue out of the way: The human tongue can detect four basic flavors: salt, sour, bitter and sweet.  Scientists believe that we are wired for sweetness because of our primate status: There is only a little over 1% genetic difference between modern humans and chimpanzees.  That’s an important fact, right there, because primate animals mostly eat fruit from the trees as the best source of energy and water.  They choose the sweet, ripe fruit, over the unripe and bitter fruit, because the sweeter fruit contains more energy and water — the stuff of life.  Plus, bitter things have a tendency to have a higher toxicity and maintaining life status typically means cutting back on all things toxic.  [Spoiler alert: You won’t like this, but too much sugar is actually toxic to your body.]

Human beings like sweets, thanks to the way our bodies and minds work and it has not changed much since we learned to stand up straight and go to school.

Sometime around 8,000 B.C. we, as super smart (alecky) humans beings, learned to domesticate sugar sources.  Sugar cultivation began to spread all over the world (thanks, in part, to those cranky Crusaders and curious Columbus) and soon beet and cane sugar were everywhere.  And now?  Humans now eat 120 million tons of sugar a year.  I’m sorry.  Let me repeat that, for those of you in the far-reaching seats: 120 million tons of sugar a year.  This means individuals went from consuming approximately four pounds of sugar a year back in the 1700’s to over one hundred pounds of sugar today.  In addition, this 120 million tons of sugar I speak of in our daily diets comes not from a healthy, beautiful fruit source but from mass-produced food products.  Turns out, we like us some sweet stuff and the companies that make the food we eat on a daily basis have figured that out and are more than happy to oblige our sweet-seeking tendencies.  It’s hard to pick up a label anymore for ANYthing and not see some form of fructose, lactose, glucose or sucrose… Oh, and see that pattern?  That sneaky suffix –ose is a little bit of language used in biochemistry to form the names of sugars.  Close your eyes and say it softly, “-ose” sounds a bit like the happy sound made after a particularly satisfying slice of pie.

So, now that we’ve established that eating sweets is a part of our hard wiring to make sure we obtain energy, I think we also need to make peace with it.  Listen to me, people! It does not make you a BAD PERSON if you like sweet things.  You can’t help it!  It’s part of your make-up.  And unlike that well-meaning relative, I think it makes you someone I’d like to spend time with and furthermore, break bread (maybe even a cupcake) with.  That said, what we DO need to understand, is that we are indulging in entirely too much of the sweet stuff and we need to cut that out.  [I can almost hear your exasperated sound of disappointment from here, and I have to say, it sounds a lot like “-ose.”]

Yes, we need energy and water to function – but in a nutshell, we’re shoving too much energy source down our gullets and not using it.  You could spend all your time and energy (mental, not physical) focusing on calories, carbohydrates and fat content of food but the bottom line <insert pun-worthy butt joke here> is for us to try and pay attention to how much –ose is going in our pieholes.

Sugar addiction is a real thing and many reputable medical and psychological organizations are lumping (jeez, sugar puns abound) sugar and drug addiction in the same pile.  The brain doesn’t like coming off of sugar any more than it does morphine, nicotine or alcohol.  It’s a real problem, but I’m finding there are steps to take to help dig out of the sugar bowl and I’m not just pointing them out to you, I’m currently making an effort to do this, too.  We can do this together and here are the seven steps that experts suggest:

  1. Do NOT replace real sugar with artificial sugar.  There is plenty of scientific evidence that I’m not going to go into here, but suffice it to say that the body and the brain are easily duped and confused and not in a good way.  Just don’t do it.
  2. Start exercising and add milk to your diet.  Consuming loads of sugar does a number to the reward mechanism between your ears and even though you feel rockingly good after eating the sugar, you’ll crash and need more to maintain that high.  Studies show you can get that feel-good feeling by adding whey protein (found in milk) which increases serotonin, the “happy hormone” that elevates your mood.  Serotonin can also be increased in the brain through moderate exercise (unfortunately it is also found in sugar-laden chocolate, which is easier to grab – but ultimately bad for you).
  3. Free yourself of fat-free products.  Many fat-free products are loaded with sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup or other –ose ingredients.
  4. Sleeeeeep.  Studies have shown that circadian sleep cycles can affect sugar cravings.  Honestly, when I’m sleepy I also have very little will power and will justify a sweet snack because I believe it will give me energy.  You too?
  5. Store some snacks nearby.  If you’ve got a healthy alternative to drive-thru right there in your car, or at your workplace – you might make better choices when it comes down to brass tacks (or alas snacks).  Apples.  Popcorn.  String cheese.  Squirrel it away.  You’ll get used to not eating McFood and feel better about it (and maybe save some $ along the way).
  6. Make your 5th grade teacher angry: Chew Gum.  A few years ago a study showed that chewing gum hourly for a minimum of three hours in the afternoon reduces sweet snack cravings.
  7. Be aware, always aware! Keep in mind that too much of a good thing is a bad thing.  High doses of sugar are toxic to your body and getting your sugar consumption under control is ultimately going to make you healthier and happier.

That said, sugar is always going to have a place in your diet and on your plate because those “-ose” are going to continue to be ever present.  I realize, that this time of year there is an abundance of sweet things to be had (I myself have been on a mad, mad, mad-mad-mad carousel of fun-size chocolate bars since autumn) and slippery well-meaning relatives who might try to ply you with pie on the sly.  But, I believe that if we make an effort to follow the above-mentioned 7 steps – it might ultimately keep us off the slippery slope of the 7 deadly sins.  And, we certainly don’t need to give the well-meaning relative another thing to lecture on.


“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” – Aristotle

“Change in all things is sweet.” – Aristotle

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.” – Henry Wadsorth Longfellow

“…and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.”  – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Aristotle and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow seemed like sweet guys.  I think I would’ve liked to have had tea and chocolate with them.”  – T. Katz

One thought on “Ain’t She (Bitter) Sweet?

  • Jim says:

    To not change is death. The only thing permanent in life is impermanence. This quote is found in J. Krishnamurti’s book. Just as you can not end thought by thought Ms Tea sters… Any who, who does not love sugar. I will tell you who, Pills, that’s who. Furthermore, sweets for you sweetie can never be let go of. you know what I mean? This must be an axiom of axiom’s. Good cheer to all and to all happy holidays. Remember to brush your teeth this holiday season.

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