Cultivating a Sweet Tooth: Fact or Presumption?

It’s a favorite rationale for avoiding anything sweet. Even if it has no calories it will drive you to want more sweet foods and drinks. Sweet stuff will give you a sweet tooth, says the Harvard School of Public Health on its website:

The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, however, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories.

More Presumption than Fact

Katherine Appleton and colleagues decided to see what the science says. They focused on the effect that exposing a person to sweet tastes has on their subsequent preference for sweetness.  A systematic review of the published literature uncovered 21 rigorous studies. But despite all those studies, this belief turns more of an intuitive presumption than a proven fact. They say:

We found equivocal evidence from population cohort studies. The evidence from controlled studies suggests that a higher sweet taste exposure tends to lead to reduced preferences for sweetness in the shorter term, but very limited effects were found in the longer term.

We don’t expect that the facts will do much to stem the tide of saccharophobia sweeping the globe. Consumers are shunning sweetened beverages. Food and beverage makers are following the trends. It’s a huge, uncontrolled experiment in removing sweetness from foods and beverages.

Perhaps we’ll find the right balance – a Goldilocks answer with just enough sweetness in the food supply. Or maybe we’ll overshoot the goal. Wherever we land, though, we won’t call it a sweet spot.

Click here for the study in AJCN. For perspective on historical attitudes toward sugar and sweetness, click here (if you have trouble with that link to a pdf, you can go here instead).

Sweets, painting by Boris Kustodiev / WikiArt

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April 9, 2018

One Response to “Cultivating a Sweet Tooth: Fact or Presumption?”

  1. April 10, 2018 at 8:43 am, Allen Browne said:

    Amazing what results you find when you look at the big picture.