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Do You Have A Sweet Tooth?

By Dr. Janet Starr Hull

Americans have become notorious consumers of sugar and sweet-tasting foods and beverages. “We have developed a relentless sweet tooth and a severe addiction to sweetness," states Joan Gussow, Ed.D., Professor of Nutrition and Education at Columbia Teachers College, Columbia University, New York.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics on the amount of caloric sweeteners used in modern foods, there has been an increase of added sugars of more than sixteen percent per person over the past two decades, and more than half of the increase has occurred since 2000.  “Added sweeteners” include:

Paul Lachance, Chairman of the Department of Food Science at University in New Jersey, estimates that, based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, the average American consumes about 300 calories from sugars added to foods. That adds up to nearly fourteen teaspoons of table sugar per person a day.

Dr. Gussow has her own theory why sugar has become so prominent in the American diet. “It's for taste,” she says. "I grow my own vegetables and fruit. And when I pick, cook and eat my parsnips, for example, they are as sweet as sugar."

Why is sugar so prominent in our modern diet? When food is shipped and stored, it can get old, turning its natural sugar into starch. It loses its natural sweetness; so many times sugar is added to restore the flavor.

“If people eat increasingly larger quantities of … sweeteners in general,” writes Jane Hurley, Associate Nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Washington, D.C, “these can compete with and crowd out other nutrients. People are better off having an apple as a snack than a candy bar."

Research shows that human beings have an inborn desire for sweets, one of the four fundamental taste sensations. Newborn infants have been observed to react positively to sweetness. Studies demonstrate that the response to sweets is an involuntary, reflex reaction rather than a learned response.

But “sweeteners” are a manmade concept.  Humans have always strived to make things “better”, and since the sensation of sweetness is the most pleasurable of the taste sensations, products that are sweet – sell!

Consider a box of cereal.  One reason it has so much added sugar is because it’s been processed to the point it doesn’t taste good without it.  An organic box of whole grain cereal needs less - to no - added sweetening because the natural sugars in the grain are enough - if you let them be, that is. 

Honey and fruits were originally the main sources for satisfying our “sweet” tastes. However, since it was first refined some 600 years ago, refined table sugar (sucrose) has been the standard for sweetness.  Until recent decades, sucrose was the only sweetener in general use.

By the turn of the twenty-first century, the USDA recorded sixty-seven pounds of sugar from sugar cane and sugar beets, eighty-six pounds of sugar from corn sweeteners, and one pound of other natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup were delivered (per capita) into the American food supply. That adds up to a total carbohydrate sweetener availability of around 154 pounds per personThe sugar to watch out for is the eighty-six pounds of corn syrup, which climbed from zero consumption in 1966 to 62.6 pounds per person in 2001.

The Problem May Not Be Sugar, But Corn Syrup
“Perhaps the most commonly used nutritive sweetener is high-fructose corn syrup, a sweet product manufactured from cornstarch and containing a high level of fructose,” explains Kyd Brenner, Director of Public Affairs for the Corn Refiners Association in Washington, D.C. High-fructose corn syrup is very close to the composition and calorie content of cane sugar, and corn syrup is used as a direct and inexpensive substitute for cane sugar when liquid sweeteners are called for. It is used extensively in soft drinks, condiments, jams, jellies, and wine, but is not available for home use.

An advantage of high-fructose corn syrup is that it "tastes sweeter than refined sugar," making it a popular ingredient for food manufacturers because it enables them to use less. Today, sweeteners made from corn are the leader, racking up $4.5 billion in annual sales and accounting for fifty-five percent of the sweetener market. This switch largely reflects the steady growth of high-fructose corn syrup.

Syrup In Your Cola: One very common misconception is the statement "there are up to twelve teaspoons of sugar in every regular cola." Read your labels - there is rarely actual granulated sugar in popular carbonated sodas – merely high-fructose corn syrup. As a liquid, the syrup is easier to blend into beverages than refined sugar, according to the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA).

Have you ever considered how many pounds of sweetener the soft drink industry buys? High-fructose corn syrup costs a few pennies less than refined sugar, but it is millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, in savings.

Recent research suggests there may be some unexpected nutritional consequences of using corn syrups. Fructose absorbs differently than other sugars, and it doesn't register in the body metabolically the same way glucose does. Research also suggests that fructose may alter the magnesium balance in the body. That, in turn, can accelerate bone loss, according to a USDA study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

In November 2003, a review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined evidence from multiple studies on high fructose corn syrup. The researchers concluded that large quantities of fructose from a variety of sources, including table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup:

Numerous nutritive and nonnutritive substitutes for sugar compete for top place in the market. Do YOU have a sweet tooth?


Squires S. Sweet but Not So Innocent? High-Fructose Corn Syrup May Act More Like Fat Than Sugar in the Body. Washington Post. March 11, 2003.

Byrnes SC. Conquering Candidiasis Naturally.

Evaluation of Health Aspects of Sugars Contained in Carbohydrate Sweeteners, Report from the FDA's Sugars Task Force, 1986. J Nutr 1986;116(11S):S1-S216.

Center for Science in the Public Interest. Press Release. Sugar Intake Hit All-time High in 1999. May 18, 2000. Release accessible at

Posted on March 30, 2005 in Sugar | Link To This Entry | Comments (3)


Posted by: frances on March 31, 2005 11:36 AM

I've observed that a newly diagnosed diabetic is nearly desperate to find a way to keep on eating sweets. I have to be patient, because I don't have much of a sweet tooth. If someone said I could not have sugar I would not care, but for the diabetic it is nearly panic. Why is this. I see desperation for sweets, usually pastry, in the elderly too.

I saw Sugarphobia before I posted this. Maybe, over advising against sugar causes this pannic to seek artificial substitutes. Many feel the same thing happened with fat. All these new sugar free and low carb food products nearly equal the amount of low fat ones. Just more sabotage. There may be hope here in all this confusion. People may just scrap it all and go back to real food. The notion of no "diet" food is what attracted me to the low carbohydrate way of eating in the first place. Why would I want to substitute with just some more diet food. I hope the companies put their own selves out of business. Maybe small farming will be the "new" technology.


Posted by: Dr. Janet Starr Hull on April 26, 2005 9:29 PM

In other countries, smaller local farming is still a big part of commerce, and the quality of foods is much better. Processed foods are typically an American way of life, and when US products infiltrate other countries, we truly upset the balance of the local commerce and societies as a whole. The older generations, including the Baby Boomers, still have a sense of balance between the old way and the new way of eating - processed versus homemade and fresh foods. But, here lies the problem. The younger generation is being marketed to and tempted with these fast food, high fat and chemically laden foods. Face it, their tastes are addictive, and the younger generations protest when made to eat homemade foods with fruits and vegetables. We have a real eating dysfunction nowadays, and eating disorders and obesity are rampant among children. So, marketing should not be allowed to tempt children with toys and games attached to these cheaper fake foods, processed foods should not be allowed in the schools, and chemical food products need to be kept away from children. If parents will practice these habits, they and their children will be more balanced and much healthier.


Posted by: HArriet Bensmsan on March 23, 2008 6:39 AM

Does aspartame and Splenda cause insulin resistance?
I have been drinking Crystal Ligt lately and Splenda in my coffee and am not losing weight as fast.


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