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Why Do We Love Sweet Foods?

By Tony Tian Edited By Chloe Norman

From Snickers, Kit Kats, and Hershey Kisses to Skittles, Starbursts, and Sour Patch Kids, candy has become a universally beloved commodity, bringing happiness and joy to individuals around the world. If you are anything like me —someone with an irresistible sweet tooth— just hearing the names of these classic sweet treats will make your mouth water and tongue tingle. But have you ever wondered why we consider these sugary delights to be so tasty?

As it turns out, the answer to this question can be traced back to our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago! However, before we can travel back in time, let us first try to understand what sugar is…

There are many different types of sugar that give foods a distinctive sweetness. For example, the “sugar” that makes apples sweet is very different from the sugar found in your favorite candy bar. Plants, algae, and bacteria all have the ability to produce a combination of different sugars when they undergo photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water from the environment to create oxygen and energy in the form of sugar.

Energy from the sun is stored inside the plant in three main forms: sucrose, fructose, and glucose. These packets of sunlight are then later broken down inside the plant to provide it with the energy necessary to fuel its biological needs!

Yet if I were to ask you to think of sugar, my guess is that your mind wouldn’t immediately be filled with images of leaves or blades of grass. Instead, you’d probably imagine packets of tasty candy or the white grains of table sugar in your kitchen. To convert glucose produced by plants into a form that can be used by humans, we must extract it from the plants with a high sucrose content such as sugar cane or sugar beets. It is then purified, condensed, and crystallized into the raw sugar we have come to know and love today. It may also be turned into a liquid syrup form, think corn syrup or maple syrup!

On a chemical level, we love sugar because it triggers a signal pathway in our brains called the dopamine system. Dopamine is a chemical inside of our brain that provides us with a positive response. Think of something you absolutely LOVE doing, maybe like playing basketball or reading comics or learning something new. You probably love it because doing it provides your brain with large amounts of dopamine, causing you to feel good and making you want to do it again!

This is exactly what happens to your brain when you eat sugar… but why? Why does eating sugar make us feel so happy?

First, let’s move back in time to an era that predates the existence of candies and chocolate, to when our ancestors still hunt and gather for food.With only our own natural instincts to rely on, how do we know what to eat to keep us alive?

Well, do you remember how sugars were produced? They are little packets of energy that plants create to store the sun’s energy so that they can access fuel when they need it later on. As it turns out, just like plants, humans can also use sugar to produce energy!

As humans, we need carbohydrates to survive. Considered one of the most important carbohydrates, sugar along with fibers and starches give us the energy we need to survive and grow. As a result, our ancestors loved sugar because their body knew it would help them survive and thrive under their harsh environmental conditions.

Now, let’s move back to the current world, where sugar is available everywhere from local gas stations to your doctor’s office. This is good news because our brains love sugar; however, too much sugar is not good for you. If we eat more sugar than we burn through exercise, you’ll get sick! This is because the extra energy provided by glucose is forced into places where your body doesn’t want it to go- into your fat tissue, your bloodstream, or maybe even your brain.

So next time you’re craving a sweet treat, remember that it's only natural to love sugar – after all, sugar is chemically designed to make you happy! But also remember that eating too much can also harm our bodies. As a result, it is important that we aim for a balanced diet that allows us to enjoy our favorite sugary treats in a safe and healthy way!


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