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Sweet Craving

Dr Savita Date Menon

Picture this: a birthday without cake, dinner without dessert, Formula One winner without champagne, Sankranti without payasam, and Diwali without mithaai. Picture doesn’t look complete, right?

Early instincts

Considering that our ancestor, the cave dweller, was a hunter and gatherer, the staple diet was meat, fruit and uncooked vegetables. No simple carbs and certainly no sweets. Somewhere along the way, man acquired a sweet tooth, not one out of the 32 pearlies, but a more behavioral tooth perhaps.

Also notice, the more civilized he got, the sweeter the tooth got. Ask a dietician to analyze the nutritive necessity of sweet eating and I’m sure she will say there is nothing necessary about it. So why is a ‘Bakers Inn’ or a ‘Delhi Sweets‘ more popular than a grocery store?


The psychology

If nutrition is not the answer, perhaps psychology is. Psychology researchers Susana Pecina and Kent Berridge, whose study has been published in the Journal of Neuro Science, found a pleasure spot in the brain, a tiny brain pleasure cube that chemically doubles liking for sweets, increasing sweet eating six times. One small detail — the experiment was conducted on rats!

Perhaps we humans are not too different though. Brain Wansink of Cornell University analyzed the snacking habits of 770 individuals at Cornell University. His findings suggested that sweet eaters ate more fruit and fruit eaters ate more sweet, compared to vegetable lovers or salty snack lovers. His research showed that the sweet tooth seems to be located in the brain and it also seems to like fruit.

Yet another study also links the sweet tooth to alcohol. Alexei Kampov, Mount Sinai Med School, recruited 163 college-going social drinkers. Half of them had a paternal history of alcoholism and this group was found to be 2.5 times more likely to enjoy sweets. They also disliked diluted sugar solutions. Kampov suggests that the opoid system (the part of the brain impacted by both sugar and alcohol) is oversensitive in these subjects. So sugar addict, you are now at risk, from the bubbly as well.


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