Why do we crave sugar?

Sugar cravings are so strong sometimes that they wake us up in the middle of the night and take us straight to the fridge. Some find it amusing, but for others, it is an unfortunate reality—blame it on a “sweet tooth” or addiction. The reason, though, is hidden in our genes, and has enabled us to survive for millennia.

We all crave sugar. We love it and it’s hard to avoid. It is a part of our daily diet and celebrations. The food industry knows that and invests large sums of money into developing new treats, tastes, and products. The wide variation of chocolates, candies, and biscuits we are fed is mind-blowing. And we, the consumers, have no means to resist…We follow our inner cravings and eat all the sweets that meet the eye.

But apart from known sweet treats such as cakes, ice creams, candies, and sodas, there is a growing number of products that should have no sugar at all and yet have plenty. Added sugar is present in soups, meats, pasta sauces—and the list is expanding. Nowadays, it’s much easier to find a product with added sugar than without it. What’s more worrying, sugar is an inseparable component of so-called healthy foods such as whole-meal cereals, healthy and energy bars, and diet snacks.

The consequences are evident: there is a noticeable increase in obesity across developed countries. Scientists have evidence showing that eating low-quality processed and sweet food contributes to insulin resistance, diabetes, a high level of triglycerides, metabolic syndrome, and more.

At the same time, awareness is arising among people who prefer to prevent rather than cure. They believe that following a proper diet helps us keep healthy and fit. The saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” becomes truer than ever. Mind you, it’s not only about an apple.
Low-carb, low glycemic index diets have become more popular, and new kinds of diets are coming. The recent popularity of the paleo (Paleolithic, or caveman) diet shows that people are aware of how important it is to eat only limited amount of carbohydrates.

Even though awareness is here, the question remains: why do we crave sugar?

First of all, it’s in our genes. The human race as a species is approximately 2 million years old. From the very beginning, all humans got their food from hunting, gathering, and fishing. Those roots are not only our habits, likes, and dislikes; they shaped our genome and allowed us to develop in a certain way. Sugar was not readily available at that time—the only source of it was ripe fruit at the end of summer. Our ancestors would eat a lot of it to store extra fat which would enable them to survive cold winters. Eating sugar was a survival mechanism that protected early humans from starving to death.

Additionally, we had to like sugar, otherwise we wouldn’t be so willing to stuff ourselves with all this ripe fruit. We did like it, as sugar stimulates dopamine, which is responsible for motivation, pleasure, and pleasurable reward. Our brain preference was designed in such a way that it predisposed us to get hooked on sugar in order to survive and pass along our genes.
The survival cravings worked great when sugar was scarce. However, nowadays, when pure sugar is present almost everywhere, we are not adapted to it and therefore get fat and sick.