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#4 Fat Chance: Why we crave sweets

In this letter, I promised I'd explain the mystery of why humans (and most primates) crave sugar.  Why it's so addictive.  Why a rat drinking morphine water (and loving it) will switch to plain sugar water within 2 days....

Away back when hunter-gatherers were trying to survive an upcoming winter, Mother Nature installed an addiction device for sweet.  Since most of the year, sweet wasn't available, homo sapiens lived on animals killed, tubers dug up and plants gathered. Only ONE month of the year was sweet available: harvest time.  When the trees and bushes were laden with fruit, apparently homo sapiens gorged on the stuff.  Eating tons of fruit would help pack on pounds around the tummy to help get thru the winter and avoid starvation.  (you know, "living off the fat")

Fast forward a few bazillion years and we humans still crave sugar as if we were about to face starvation in the winter. 

Problem is:  we have fruit year round (even flown from Chile when we can't get our fix locally) and sugar stuffed into every possible shelf-bought food.

Result:  Obesity, diabetes, and every other chronic illness because of the constant inflammation of the entire body brought on by constant insulin release. The pancreas never gets a break, excess sugar gets pushed into fat cells, and everyone's gettin' fat 'cept Mama Cass.

The Fix:  Eat fruit only when in season - in your area.  The substitute for sweet in the winter is underground (root) vegetables: carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, you can think of more, and the green things that grow above ground year round:  broccoli, cabbage, spinach, romaine, etc.  The "sugar" in root vegetables is actually glucose, which is starch, and does not lead to excess insulin release. Of course, if you eat more food than you need, you will still be able to put on pounds without over-activating insulin release.  But we are all amazed that even when we eat those kinds of starch, we will not normally gain weight if sugar in all it's sweet forms, is eliminated.

Tips:  When buying anything packaged, flip to the back side and read the breakdown of nutrients.  If you see "sugar" or "added sugar", it really doesn't belong in our diet if we wish to remain healthy into our 60s, 70s, 80's and on.  Do not rely on the front of the package for information.  That's called "advertising".

Gimme a break, you say!! 
Ok, so Dr. Lustig and all of the other doctors who study human disease and the effects of sugar say that our bodies can handle about 6 tsp sugar per day without generating insulin over-activity.  Since the national average of sugar consumption comes down to about 1/3 pound per day, we can see that's a lot more than 6 teaspoons! (That average means that half the population eats a lot more than that and some eat none of the stuff.  I haven't met anyone in the latter category but I'm sure they exist.)

This is tough medicine.  And we don't need to fund another billion dollar research project to "figure out why Americans are obese".  (this is quickly becoming true in many other industrialized countries - anyone who has adopted the American way of life with daily soft-drinks and fast food, not to mention all the supermarket packaged gimmicks we buy as treats for ourselves and our children.)

So, go out and find your favorite way to get your daily ration of 6 tsp/sugar. Full disclosure: mine is a piece or two of See's dark chocolate with nuts.....

Mary Anne Robinson, MS Bio-Nutrition