Sweetness

Reading a passionate post about the dangers of aspartame on the blog Pink’s Thinks has put me to thinking about sweetness.

It seems to me that much of what ails our food culture these days can be linked to the human craving for sweetness and, of course, the absence of self control.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying a sweet treat now and then.  But in our culture sugar and sugar-substitutes are no longer ocassional treats–they’re part of nearly every meal and snack we eat.  The health consequences of that are devastating.

Some foods are naturally sweet–fruits and honey for instance.  Sweet foods, like fatty foods, were not a regular part of the human diet early in our evolutionary history.  Because of that, and because they were high in energy, we developed a propensity to binge on them when we found them.  But these days sweet and fatty foods are available anytime we want them and in any quantity we want.  Unless we practice self control, we still binge on these foods.  But because we do so nearly continuously, the consequences are, among other things, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

Think about how often you would have candy or a sugary food when you were a child, then compare that to how often children have such things these days.  That might naturally cause you to think about how much children weigh these days, compared to what they weighed when we were children.

These days most folks start the day with a bowl of sugary cereal.  They drink sweetened drinks all day, snack on candy and have sweetened foods as part of their meals.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re having a piece of pie.  Often they don’t even think about the sweetness.  Processed food manufacturers have incorporated sweeteners into nearly everything they make, from bread to ketchup.  Check the ingredient list on nearly any processed food you eat and you’ll find sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or some artificial sweetener like aspartame.  The makers of these products know sweetness in foods is addictive and prompts a person to overeat.  More consumption means more profit for them, so sweetening the food is a no-brainer.

The cheapness of fructose extracted from industrial corn (relative to natural sugar) led to the now well-known ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup.  As our society became fatter and sicker from the sugars, scientists created chemical substitutes that satisfied our craving for sugar, without the calories.  These laboratory creations, things like sacharin and aspartame, are fixtures in our food supply now.  Millions of people drink “diet” soft drinks, for example, to satisfy their craving for sweetness while presumably avoiding the negative health consequences of sugar.  But by ingesting these chemicals they are subjecting their bodies to other health risks.  And, ironically, it is now known that artificial sweeteners tend to stimulate appetite, causing a person to eat more than they would if they had avoided the “diet” drink.  Instead of helping prevent obesity, artificial sweeteners are contributing to it.

There’s nothing wrong with having desert ocassionally.  I’m certainly looking forward to our first blackberry cobbler of the season.  But unless our society begins to exercise some self control, and breaks its addiction to sweetened food, we are going to pay a heavy price for all that sweetness.

10 comments on “Sweetness

  1. Hi Bill!
    You are absolutely right. Our society as a whole is literally addicted to sugar (and sugar-like chemical substances). I was reading an interesting study that showed (specifically) high fructose corn syrup and other sugars react in your brain on an MRI the exact same way as crack cocaine. All of the same areas light up and people subconsciously need more and more to reach their “high”. Unfortunately, every day with the average diet is a sugar overload from start to finish and the idea of moderation is truly an impossibility with the advent of myriads of sugar and sugar-like substances completely laden in nearly every product you can imagine buying in the store. (Which is why I’d like to high five you for being a real and positive contributor to our society as a whole with your career. I think outside of shepherding the Lord’s flock, being a steward of the land and the resources God gives us is the highest and most blessed calling I can think of. That and homeschooling moms, of course! You cannot get any more productive within a society.)

    May the Lord bless you and keep you and your family,
    Ms. Daisy
    @ Pink’s Thinks

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the kind words.
      Not long ago food companies began reducing the fat content in much of their processed food as consumers were seeking out “low fat” or “reduced fat” foods. But in almost all cases the companies just replaced the fat with sugar or fructose, making the products more unhealthy than they’d been before!

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  2. Charline Burgess says:

    Bill,
    You are so right. Almost all food that is not grown in a garden is loaded with a special cocktail of sweeteners, salt and chemicals to make us crave them and create the health problems we see today.
    Did you see the NY Times Magazine article from earlier this year about the ‘perfect junk food’? The scientists at the food companies work on formulas for ‘mouth feel’ and ‘pounds of pressure and crunch per bite’ . The article is The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, I read that piece when it came out. We’re up against an army of scientists hard at work trying to create “foods” that entice us to overeat. And we’re also up against multi-billion dollar advertising budgets.
      Ultimately our defenses are education, awareness and self-control.

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  3. Dee Ready says:

    Dear Bill, tell me, does the sugar substitute called “truvia” do the same thing to our appetites and brains as sacharin and aspartame? I don’t drink soft drinks and never have–except an occasional ginger ale when my stomach is upset. And the only thing I use truvia on is my morning celery, which is bran flakes/buds or oatmeal. But I do have three small ginger snap cookies every day. I try not to buy food stuffs that have fructose in them, but it is, as you say, ubiquitous. Peace.

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    • Bill says:

      It’s from stevia, which is natural and should be OK. I’m not sure how much the manufacture of truvia changes the chemistry of the stevia. I asked my wife (the nutrition expert) and she says stevia is good, but she’s not sure about truvia. I think it’s safe to say that truvia is superior to aspartame and sacharin.

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      • Ms. Daisy says:

        I just wanted to leave you a link that deals with this issue specifically (stevia – is it good?). People are suggesting that it really may not be the sweet wonder we thought it was. Yes, it comes from a plant, but it is important to see how that reacts with the human body systems. Because stevia is sweet, your palate tells your blood system to drop some glucose to get ready for an incoming flow. When it does not arrive (stevia carries a sweet taste without the glucose usually associated with sweet things), your blood glucose levels are now out of balance and they surge an adrenaline or cortisol response to bring things back to appropriate levels. This link: http://empoweredsustenance.com/sugar-its-your-friend/ deals with that subject, if you are interested. A repetitive action on this puts a lot of stress on your adrenal system and wears it down. I didn’t know what to think of those other sweeteners before, but I do know that I would like to keep my adrenals in the best shape possible. 🙂 Anyway, some interesting reading if you’re up for it.

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  4. Bob Braxton says:

    tout de suite

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  5. shoreacres says:

    Corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are big problems. I’m a huge dessert fan – that was standard operating procedure in our family and I do my best to carry on the tradition. BUT – all of our desserts were homemade. Apple crisp. Rice pudding. Cobblers and pies.Even the ice cream was mostly homemade. The result was that they tasted phenomenal, and kept us from nagging for “store-bought” treats. If there wasn’t anything else around, we’d have a homemade cookie or two.

    Of course, the social structure underlying that kind of dessert is so radically different from today’s it’s breathtaking. Mom was at home and had the time to do the baking. Everything was made from scratch and portions were smaller. When we drank pop (that’s the Iowa word), our root beers and grape and orange sodas were made with real sugar, but we’d have one as a treat. We didn’t drink them as a substitute for water.

    We also were much more active. When we wanted candy from the little gas station down the street, we’d hop on our bikes, ride there as fast as we could, spend our nickels and dimes and then ride home. When we got home, we didn’t run indoors to watch tv, we stayed outside jumping rope, playing ball, roller skating and such.

    Recently, I proved to myself the value of going back to “real” desserts. I love ice cream, but I’d gotten to the point where I couldn’t keep it in the house. Half gallons were disappearing at an alarming rate. 😉

    I read about the corn syrup/aspartame/sucrose business, and thought, “Huh! What would happen if I went back to the old way of eating desserts?” I looked around and found a company in Dallas that manufactures Italian style gelato, with all natural ingredients. Milk, cream, eggs, sugar. Even their flavorings – like my favorite mint – are natural.

    I brought a pint home and it only took that one pint for me to figure out that it tasted SO much better than commercial ice creams that I could be perfectly satisfied with a nice, half-cup serving. I was eating more than I should of the additive-laden because it simply wasn’t satisfying.

    I’m running on… but my point is we CAN have our desserts and enjoy them if we’re aware of what we’re doing. For one thing, if we cut out the foods in our diet that are laden with corn syrup and such, it not only takes very little real sugar to satisfy even a serious sweet tooth, we begin to recover the natural sweetness even of vegetables. The yellow squash, onions and tomatoes I had for supper tonight would make a better dessert than that glop-laden ice cream!

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    • Bill says:

      You are so right. There was always homemade dessert at my grandparents’ house and it was available at every meal–pies, cobblers, cakes. As well as jams, jellies and fruit. But you can be sure there was no HFCS, sacharine or aspartame in any of it. And after we ate didn’t wobble over to the sofa for TV and video games. Whatever we put in our bodies was energy for physical labor.

      Even with dessert food always available, no one ate as much of it as folks seem to do these days. Food made will natural ingredients is naturally filling. Our bodies don’t recognize the chemicals we ingest these days as food, so they don’t tell us we’re full. Then in way too many cases after filling ourselves with such stuff, we don’t do anything to burn off the calories. It’s a vicious cycle.

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