A very sweet article

Hands up if you like sweets! Chocolates, candies, cakes, and cookies… Why can’t we just get enough of them? 

How do we perceive taste?

Let’s start by looking at the mechanism of taste perception. What we perceive as a sweet taste is usually caused by sugars and their derivatives as fructose or lactose. Sometimes responding to sweetness sensory cells can be activated by some protein building blocks or alcohols.

We sense flavors thanks to the taste buds on the tongue. A popular myth is that a specific place on the tongue is responsible for receiving specific taste stimuli. Meanwhile, we perceive all flavors most intensely with the edges of the tongue – although we feel the bitter taste stronger on the back. This is probably to protect us from ingesting toxins that usually taste bitter. Some people are born with more taste buds and are particularly sensitive to bitter taste. They are called supertasters.

An evolutionary perspective

But why is sweet taste so many peoples’ favorite? According to anthropologists sweetness signals the presence of sugars, a source of calories. Sweet also meant that the plant is not toxic. Detecting this taste helped early humans choose which plans are worth picking and growing. Sweet-detecting cells produce a receptor protein called TAS1R2/3, which detects sugars. The TASIR2/3 genes are also found in monkeys, dogs, bats, lizards, and pandas… most vertebrates have them. Contemporary problems with obesity mean that we are victims of our evolutionary success. Meanwhile many carnivores who benefit little from sugars, harbor only broken-down relics of TASIR 2 (cats for example). It’s called the use-it-or-lose-it theory: if you don’t need something it may disappear in the course of evolution.

Sweet memories of childhood

Another explanation for why we love sweets so much may be our relationship with them built since childhood – we were taught that chocolates and cookies are something special, they are a reward and a moment of pleasure. Sometimes sweets were also treated as something dosed, forbidden to eat without supervision. No wonder the sweets hidden on the top shelves were all the more tempting. A crying child is often given a cookie to wipe its tears away – so from an early age, we associate sweets with calming negative emotions.

According to Harvard Health Publishing overconsumption of sugar can be one of the greatest threats to cardiovascular disease. So are sweets that bad? The answer is not that simple. The amount of sugar defined as safe for a healthy person by the WHO is bigger than you think – between 5 and 10 teaspoons (25-50 g). However, nowadays sugar is present everywhere – in bread, many dairy products, sauces, and beverages… So what should we do? As usual, the best option is to have moderation and reason – you can read the labels and choose products with better ingredients, but don’t deny yourself a little pleasure once in a while.


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