It’s Halloween and that means candy galore! Why do people like candy? Why do people like sweet flavours in general? Let’s figure it out!
What Even is Sweetness?
Like everything else about humans it all comes back to evolution. Humans evolved to have tongues specifically adept at detecting flavours and specifically we tend to looks for salty and sweet things as opposed to bitter or sour. This is likely due to the fact that bitter and sour things in nature are usually not safe to eat. Humans love the sweetness of pure sugar especially and that’s why food chemists want so badly to replicate it (more on that later). We love sweetness because of it’s key chemical component “Sucrose”. When sucrose is burned by your digestive system it gives you a lot of excess energy to confront your day if you don’t actually use that energy it sticks around becoming fat cells. Now when I say energy I’m talking about alertness not hyperactivity; sugar high isn’t actually a thing however sugar before bed can keep your kids up for a while.
Why Do We use Artificial Sweeteners (and what are they)
Artificial sweeteners are an attempt to make sugar that doesn’t leave you with excess energy and therefore fat free which in theory is a great idea! It just doesn’t work like that. What it actually does is make our brains dissociate calorie intake with real sugar making us gain MORE weight. Artificial sweeteners have a different molecular makeup that tried and true sucrose and therefore we can’t digest them or we can but they basically have no calories so no extra energy. Let’s look at some of the more common sweeteners.
Saccharin is one of the earliest artificial sweeteners and is also known as “Sweet N’ Low”.It was discovered completely by accident in 1870 by a chemist working with coal-tar; he accidentally licked his fingers and now we have saccharin. Saccharin is about 300x sweeter than natural sugar and undiluted can leave you with a metallic after taste. For a long time anything containing saccharin had to have a “may cause cancer” label. The studies that claimed this were defunded and discredited which is why they no longer have the label but it’s something you should be aware of.
Aspartame is by far the most common artificial sweetener and has the most controversy surrounding it. Aspartame was ALSO discovered by accident in the 1960’s when a chemist licked his finger to turn a page while testing a new ulcer medication. It’s about 200x sweeter than sugar and our bodies can metabolize it. The controversy of aspartame comes from Michael J Fox. Fox was a spokesperson for Pepsi Co for many years and as such drank a ridiculous amount of the stuff. Pepsi as of the 80’s was sweetened with aspartame and when Fox developed Parkinsons disease he blamed it on his aspartame intake. Some studies support this some don’t so I’ll let you decide.
Sucralose is advertised as “tasting like sugar because it’s made from sugar”. This is completely true…. the problem comes from how it’s made from sugar. This one was also made by accident in the 1970’s in London England while chemists were trying to make an insecticide by reacting chlorine with sugar. This created a whole new compound and when one of the chemists were told to test the substance they misheard and they tasted it instead and thus a legend was born. Sucralose is sugar with some of the oxygen and hydrogen atoms replaced with chlorine atoms and it’s 600x sweeter than sugar. The chlorine makes it so we can’t metabolize it so it’s calorie free and makes it heat resistant so you can bake with it.
Finally the new guy on the scene Stevia is derived from the South American sweet leafed Stevia Plant. It’s been using for a long time in South America but only within the past few year has it been available in North America.
Now you know what your kids/you are eating this Halloween and why your eating it and the more you know the more you grow!
If you have any questions you’d like me to answer toss em’ in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!