What’s behind your sweet tooth cravings?

Published 8:58 am Friday, November 18, 2016

Merriam-Webster’s definition of sweet tooth reads “… a liking, fondness, or of craving sweet foods.” As we’ve learned before, you can’t burn or “metabolize” body fat if sugar is in your bloodstream, so we should all try to curb our sweet tooth, or avoid having one altogether.

One principle to remember for a lifetime is that your body can’t tell the difference between what you choose to do, or what your body has to do. That means when we choose sweets, our body says “Hey, sugar is available, so it must be okay for us to crave it.”

Contrary to what some believe, no one is actually born with a sweet tooth, but rather, we create one. When we were kids, and were good, what was our usual reward? Cookies, candy, cake, ice cream, and the sort. In very short order, we developed our sweet tooth, and a craving for sugary treats.

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Ever use artificial sweeteners? You might be asking yourself, “How could artificial sweeteners make me crave sugar?”

Artificial sweeteners are by their very nature several times sweeter than sugar. Here’s a list of a few artificial sweeteners, and how much sweeter they taste than sugar:

• Saccharin (brand name: Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Thin, Necta Sweet, Equal) 200-700 times sweeter than sugar

• Aspartame (Brand name: Nutrasweet) 200 times sweeter than sugar

• Acesulfame (Brand name: Sunett, Sweetone) 200 times sweeter than sugar

• Sucralose (Brand name: Splenda) 600 times sweeter than sugar

• Neotame (No brand name) 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar

Our body has two areas it can detect sweetness, the taste buds on our tongue and sensors in our brain. Here’s the problem. When we eat an artificial sweetener, our mouth thinks, “Boy, this is sweet,” but our brain says, “No, it’s not. This isn’t sugar,” so our brain isn’t satisfied. In other words our brain feels “all dressed up, with no place to go.” That makes our brain crave sugar and sweets even more.

So what’s the solution? I recommend folks wean themselves off simple sugars (monosaccharides) slowly. Remember, any drastic change (even ones that are good for you) your body will fight.

First, substitute fruit for simple sugars like cakes, candy, pastries, etc. It’s true, both fruit and sweets contain the simple sugars fructose and glucose (monosaccharides), but fruits contain higher levels of fructose, which breaks down in the liver, (I don’t recommend eating other foods high in fructose, due to possible liver damage and obesity), and does not provoke an insulin response.

Conversely, glucose breaks down in the stomach, and requires insulin to be metabolized completely. Also, most fruit tastes less sweet than other sugary treats, so it helps reduce sugar cravings.

Try to introduce more complex sugars (carbohydrates) into your diet. These are foods like whole grains, rice, breads, potatoes (with their skin), and pastas. Be careful, however. Even though we cannot live without sugars (carbohydrates) as they fuel both our muscles and our brains, having too much of them each day, or too many times a day, can cause a variety of health problems.

Too much sugar (whether simple or complex) in our diet can cause diabetes, obesity, even hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Consuming too much sugar may also have a very strong link to development of cancers and heart disease.

With regard to artificial sweeteners, we have just covered one aspect of them. These can potentially cause problems other than just a “sweet tooth.” There have been reports of high cholesterol, headache (including migraine), dizziness, nausea, anxiety, depression, seizures, memory loss, insomnia, and changes in vision.

The key to a healthy diet is moderation. Eat “clean,” which means consuming mostly vegetables and fruits, high quality protein from fish, eggs, turkey, and chicken, low salt and sugar, plenty of water, and take your supplements.

Thanks for all the kind letters and questions. Please be patient, I will respond to each and every one. And to those wanting to work with me, I’ll do my very best to work you in. Thanks.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at dwcrocker77@gmail.com. David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC Upstate baseball team, S.C. state champion girls gymnastic team, and the Converse College equestrian team. He served as a water safety instructor to the United States Marine Corps, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught for four semesters at USC Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.