Food Science

How Sugar Affects You


I bet you knew that sugar wasn’t healthy, but have you ever wondered how it affected you?

When you take a bite of chocolate cake, it activates your “sweet” taste receptors. These receptors send a signal up to the brain stem, and from there go off into many areas of the brain. The main area is the cerebral cortex. Different sections of the cerebral cortex process different tastes; bitter, salty, sour, umami, and sweet.

From here, the brain’s “reward system” is activated. Food is not the only thing that activates the reward system – socializing and some drugs do, too. Dopamine is a big part of the reward system. There are dopamine receptors all over the brain, but they are not evenly distributed. On some parts of the brain there might only be a few dopamine receptors, while on other parts, there are tons of them. Drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine make dopamine go crazy, causing people to constantly want it.This is how people become to be addicted to them. Sugar also causes dopamine to be released, but not as much as drugs. Broccoli, from example, has no effect on the dopamine, which explains why kids hate their vegetables.

Let’s say you’re hungry, and decide to eat a healthy meal. When you eat, your dopamine levels spike. BUT, if you keep eating that meal every day for lots of days in a row, your dopamine levels will spike less and less, leveling out over time. The brain is designed to pay special attention to new foods. Why? It helps us identify foods that have gone bad. Also, the more foods in our diet, the more likely it is that we get all the nutrients that we need. We need to keep that variety up, so that’s why dopamine levels off when a food becomes boring.

Let’s replace that healthy meal with a sugary meal. If you eat too much, instead of the dopamine leveling out, they continue to make you want more. Sugar is a lot like a drug and that’s why people seem to love sugary foods. So yes, too much sugar can be addicting, but a slice of cake every once in a while won’t hurt you.

Facts About Sugar:

In the 16th century, a teaspoon of sugar cost the equivalent of five dollars in London.

The only taste humans are born craving is sugar.

Heinz ketchup contains 1 teaspoon of sugar in each 1 tablespoon serving.

One 20 oz. bottle of Coca Cola has 65 grams of sugar. This is the same amount of sugar in five Little Debbie Swiss Rolls.

The scientists who discovered sucralose (Splenda) were trying to make an insecticide. An assistant thought he had been instructed to “taste” a sample he had been asked to “test.”

Two hundred years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year. In 1970, Americans ate 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year. This is equal to 3 pounds (or 6 cups) of sugar consumed in one week.

Now…go have a salad!

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