Sweetness And Light

Sweetness is the one drug we all crave.

Don’t try to tell me any differently, because you’ll be lying.

Even me. I’m not a big sweets person. That is, I’d rather have an extra slice of the entree than a dessert, but. . . Leave a bowl of chocolate pieces sitting out and I’ll have a handful scooped up and be walking off without even noticing it.

Sweet food is the universal appeal. And it sits right along near the throne with that other dietetic nightmare delight: fat. Why else would we love ice cream so much? Combine sweetness and fat and, dudes, you’re got a winner.

And it’s been that way for a long, long time. Because, for a long, long time, fats and sugars have been exceedingly difficult for humans to consume.

For the past 200,000 years or so, fatty and sugary foods were hard for humans to come by and well worth gorging on. Fats help maintain body temperature, sugars provide energy, and craving such food is hardwired: Eating fats and sugars activates reward centers in the brain.

Popular Science, a fantastic magazine with the tagline of “The Future, Now,” recently ran an interesting little article about how our genes might influence our cravings for sweet foods. In addition to things like, if our blood sugar drops, it could trigger a craving for sweet food and that craving also will annihilate our self control — say hello to Krispy Kreme — there’s something in the genes that tells us to eat sweets.I'd eat that.

 Obesity runs in families, and although scientists still don’t know just how much of craving is hereditary and how much is learned, they have located more than 100 genes that seem to be linked to the disease. To evolve out of cravings, we’d need to stop passing down these genes.

The problem with that is that evolution doesn’t work in a straight line. And, in addition, many genes don’t act on a single trait. That is, you might try to eliminate the gene for blue eyes (I’ve never trusted those blueies.), but find that, once that’s gone, the gene that coded for that blue protein also assisted the production of the enzyme that enabled those folks to digest protein, say.

Evolution is a messy process that plays out over millions of years. It typically lags far behind changes in species behavior. Until about 50 years ago, craving fats and sugars actually helped us survive. Then fast food became abundant, and the number of obese people in the U.S. tripled between 1960 and 2007. Half a century is “just not enough time to counteract millennia,” says Katie Hinde, a human evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

So, really, it looks like if we want to master our cravings for fat and sugar, we’re going to have to stop hoping that the evolution fairy will come by and wave shir’s magic wand and wipe away the problem. If we want to stop eating too much sugar and fat, it’s going to be up to that three-pound wrinkled mass we’ve got up between our ears.

Self-control, dudes. That’s where the solution lies.

I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling I’m going to be more part of the problem than part of the solution.

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