The eccentric chocolatier of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame, Willy Wonka, famously said that “the most important thing is to make sure you never eat anything bigger than your own head.” While this seems like sage advice for young children and aspiring Oompa Loompas alike, he also knew that people love nothing more than sugar. This is why he created Everlasting Gobstoppers and Fizzy Lifting Drinks. People have been eating sugar since Neolithic times, but it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that we began doing so in such excess. Now, in addition to low-fat everything, Smart Sweets and low-sugar versions of nearly every kind of processed food are available.
A study published by National Geographic showed that 70% of Americans would rather have a Snickers bar than a handful of nuts — evidence that if Willy Wonka were alive today, he’d probably be ecstatic about all his low-sugar golden tickets.
“The most important thing is to make sure you never eat anything bigger than your own head.” -Willy Wonka.
Candy can be referenced in many ways: Snickers bars, Sweettarts, lollipops, chocolate bars, Hershey’s kisses, Cadbury creme eggs. We have seen this “craving-for-sugar” played out repeatedly in the media and popular culture – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Futurama.
With these beloved references comes a cultural phenomenon that has taken hold of our society. We are obsessed with sugar! Why? Are we hardwired to enjoy sugar as much as we do? What’s so special about sugar? Is there evidence that humans’ attraction to sugary foods is a biological imperative?
Humans crave sugar for several reasons. Our bodies need sugar to function correctly, but we only have little means of obtaining sugar naturally. In nature, humans would have been able to pick berries or fruit to get the necessary sugars to survive. Today, however, we live in an industrialized world force-fed high levels of sucrose, fructose, and glucose through processed food products with added sugars that aren’t so great for our health. One could argue that by adding extra sweeteners into everyday foods like cereal and soft drinks, companies are taking advantage of this innate craving many people have to make more money while causing health problems simultaneously.
What is it about sugar that makes us love it so much?
Sugar is sweet – that’s it. But it’s so much more than just a single taste sensation. Biologically speaking, this “sugar rush” we receive from consuming sugary foods causes the body to release insulin which takes glucose out of the blood and into our cells. The truth is, sugar gives us an immense amount of energy that can be used immediately and stored for later use! It can either be used immediately or saved as fat to be burned at another time when glucose is scarce.
Something about chocolate must make people crave it even more than other sweets.
So why do humans have such an intense love affair with chocolate in particular?
Chocolate, besides being downright delicious tasting, actually has some mind-altering effects on your body. It turns out that there are over 300 chemicals in chocolate responsible for creating the unique smell and texture which contributes to our desire for the treat. Additionally, chocolate contains an ingredient called “anandamide,” which is a cannabinoid – essentially marijuana without the high! Anandamides attach themselves to receptors in your brain that make you feel good, which endorphins and serotonin stimulate.
Something doesn’t seem right about this.
Why are we so crazy about these sugary foods if they’re bad for us?
It’s true – overeating candy and other sugary snacks can lead to health problems like obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But you have to consider where we get sugar from in the first place: fruits and vegetables. It’s true – fruit has sugar in it! But that sugar comes with fiber which helps to make you feel full and satisfied longer than when eating pure sugary snacks. Additionally, eating fruits and vegetables contains healthy antioxidants that can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.
So now that we know why we crave sugary foods, does this mean that humans are biologically programmed to eat them?
Maybe so, but there is another side to the story. As mentioned before, candy companies add extra sugars into most processed food products to increase their profits. You could argue then that these companies take advantage of a natural human tendency towards craving sugar and use it as an opportunity for increased sales. They’re the ones responsible for making our food unhealthy, not our biology.
If you’re reading this article, then chances are you’ve probably enjoyed some candy or a sugary snack recently.
What’s your favorite type of sweet?
It’s no secret why people love sugar so much. It tastes good, pleases us, and leaves us full for only a few calories.
What are healthier low-sugar alternatives?
Over time, a low-sugar diet can help reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes. However, quitting sugar cold turkey is difficult; low-sugar or low-calorie candy tastes drastically different from its full-sugar counterparts. Fortunately, low-sugar candy has come a long way since that button on Willy Wonka’s lapel popped open to create one enormous gobstopper.
Today there are plenty of low-sugar Halloween sweets (ever heard of ZERO bars?) and healthy golden tickets everywhere you look — from low-carb ice cream to ketogenic truffles.
There’s no denying it: we love sweet things, and if given an option between something low sugar and something low fat, low sugar will win every time.
Though Willy Wonka couldn’t have known it then, low-sugar candy went on to become one of the most popular low-fat alternatives in history.
“Over a lifetime, I think this low-carb diet would be a real plus – definitely healthier.” -Dr. Robert Atkins
It’s not just low-calorie sweets that people crave, though; people are also increasingly substituting regular soda for zero- or low-calorie drinks like Diet Coke and Crystal Light. Sugar-free might seem like deprivation at first (After all, when you’re used to having Hershey’s Cookies n’ Creme candy bars for breakfast because they taste so good, leaving them behind seems unthinkable), but low-sugar substitutes are everywhere.
A person’s low-calorie and low-carb diets will eventually become low-sugar if they subsist on a diet of low-sugar candy. Though the jury is still out on whether or not this is healthy, one thing is sure: low-sugar candy has helped people change their dietary habits for the better in ways that low-fat foods could never have imagined.
“This stuff tastes great – it melts in your mouth.” -Willy Wonka himself.