For the Love of Candy (The Science of Sweet)

Alex Zelaya 10/29/2018

The celebration of Halloween has long been paired with spooky costumes and devilish amounts of candy. But just how much sugar does the average American child eat on Halloween? According to Insider it’s nearly 384 grams, which translates to about 3 cups of sugar. The average American consumes roughly 22.7 teaspoons of sugar each day. That is a third of the Halloween average, but on a daily basis. Why is it that we consume so much? One would think we eat this much candy because it’s Halloween and that’s what you do, but science says that is only part of the reason.


First, and most significantly, our love for sugar is because of survival. When we eat sugar, the interaction between sugar and the brain happens almost instantly.


This makes sense. Because before the advent of convenience stores, supermarkets, and candy shops, carbohydrates (including sugar) were hard to come by. Sugar is a carb that provides our body with pure energy, so naturally, our bodies evolved to make it pleasurable to consume. There are several commons types of sugar found in our everyday foods such as: sucrose, or table sugar; fructose, which makes up half of a table sugar molecule; lactose, found in milk; and glucose, the other half of the table sugar molecule.


Fructose is found in fruit, which brings us to the reason our brains are wired to crave it. Rich Cohen of National Geographic, through his interview with Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado Denver, discovered details about our ancestors’ fructose deprived past. To paraphrase, Cohen reminds us of the present theory of humankind’s emergence from Africa, some 22 million years ago, and their great exposure to fruit. Roughly 5 million years later and stretching for some time after that, there was an Ice Age which drastically reduced the abundance of fruit throughout our ancestors' habitats. The result of this reduction of fruit led to a mutation which was favorable in such an environment. “A craving for fructose would be just the thing our ancestors needed to survive,” said Cohen. Our ancestors began to process fructose quickly and efficiently, storing fructose as fat to brace for winter.  


If our brain is programmed to like sugar, and it helps with survival, that means we will eat it again and continue searching for it.


This evolution of a pleasure mechanism for sweet foods took thousands upon thousands of years to develop, but our relatively recent advancements in civilization only took a few hundred years. Nature has never needed a pleasure “off-switch” related to sugar. We’ve always needed to seek sugar in order to create fat stores to survive winter.


In the 21st century, however, this drive does not serve us when we crave sugar while constantly being bombarded by opportunities to consume it. Especially since many foods contain high fructose corn syrup, which if eaten in high quantities, is broken down in your liver to produce fat.”


Though this hardwired mechanism for seeking sugar can be detrimental to our health, this is not to say that we should keep kids (and adults) from binging on candy for Halloween. The nostalgia, emotions, and culture that comes with Halloween will only strengthen sugar cravings anyway.


Instead, strive to cut out the excessive sugar amounts from your daily diet. Especially during the day on Halloween if you plan on slamming down 11 mini Snickers after dark. And if you eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, the candy at the end of the day won’t be the end of the world.

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