Why We Have a Sweet Tooth, According to My Husband
I really like sweet things, as is evident by this website and my book, The Dessert Diet Club, but what you don’t know is that I have one of the sweetest husbands in the world. I asked him if he could send me a voice note telling me about why we crave sweet foods on an ancestral level, and then a few hours later, I found this in my inbox:
Just over 200 million years ago, plants got the ability to flower, and with flowers followed fruits. Some plants took advantage of animals to spread their seeds that were contained in their fruits that rewarded the animal with some form of sugar. Our primate ancestors developed colour vision to see when fruits are ripest and also had the highest quantity of sugar.
Sugar was easy to store as fat and could allow survival during tough times. The drive to have sweet things is deeply ingrained in our genetics because it was an important part of survival for our primate ancestors. Another way our recent hominid and human ancestors got sugar is from honey but this was well defended by bees and was a rare treat and not a staple part of the diet.
As we moved away from the forest and onto the savanna, the dependence on plant-based food sources declined and was replaced instead with hunting for animals to provide the calories to survive but this doesn’t mean that our ancestors wouldn’t take advantage of seasonal fruit if they were given the opportunity. Our ancestors were highly opportunistic and adaptable.
The problem now is in the modern environment, there is no food scarcity and starvation is a rare occurrence. Then you add companies whose only source of income is dependent on how much humans consume of their product, which has resulted in a large number of companies deciding to put as much sugar as they can get away with into their products in order to encourage people to eat more of it. This takes advantage of an ancient instinct that compels us to eat sweet foods when they are available.
With sweet foods always being available, it’s not a surprise that we have seen a dramatic increase in diseases like diabetes. The solution to the problem is not to cut out sweet foods forever but not go overboard when you do and to only have sugar now and then. You can even do it seasonally. This ancestrally appropriate approach might just allow you to have your cake and eat it too.