The Mythical “Sweet Tooth”

Read time: 1 minute

People casually throw around the term “sweet tooth” to explain their affinity to sugary food, as if to dismiss it as a whimsical condition they inherited at birth.

This term — used freely and haphazardly from generation to generation — marginalizes a condition that David Kessler calls a chemical addiction no different than that to drugs.

According to Kessler’s research, sugar and most processed, hyper-flavored foods stimulate the nucleus accumbens, the reward center of the brain, to release a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This neurotransmitter is a “happy chemical.” 

When released often enough, dopamine causes a conditioned stimulus, like Pavlov’s salivating dogs. The sight, the smell, and even the environmental context of food can powerfully regulate eating behavior.

This is a simplified explanation, but it gives us a good idea of the seriousness of food addiction, or the sugar addiction people tend to dismiss as a “sweet tooth.”

I’m not saying to not enjoy sweets every now and then, but I’m pointing out that we should put more thoughts into how we regard our eating behavior, and recognize its potential pitfalls.

No matter what kind of weight-loss or fat-loss diet you’re on, a continued and uninhibited intake of sugary food will not help the cause, and may completely stall our progress.

The good news: If we reduce the frequency and amount of sugary and processed food, we also decrease the stimulation to the brain’s reward center. This in time will also reduce the conditioned stimulus, lessening the association of sugary and processed food to “happiness.”

Happiness should be reserved for friends and family, and for knowing that we’re healthier because of it.

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