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Why some people crave sweets more than others

(Collegian File Photo)

It’s that time of the night again: it’s been a few hours since dinner and now your stomach is starting to rumble. Your hunger senses are tingling and those insatiable cravings drive your mind to wander into the World Wide Web of snacks.

But what are you craving: is it sweet or is it savory? Have you ever wondered why some people have an aversion to sweets while others seem to eat, live and breathe sugar? Interestingly enough, the answer lies in our genetic makeup.

Before we delve into understanding why some people have more of a sweet tooth than others, we need to discuss why we have a “sweet tooth” in the first place.

The reason why humans like sweet foods stems from our instinctual senses. For animals, sweet foods are attractive because the sugar within sweets is high in calories, which then translates to a chemical signal for nutrients. More nutrients then correlate to a creature’s survival. Furthermore, animals can detect these foods as a sign of safety because sweet things in nature generally are not poisonous.

Animals, humans included, utilize this sweet sense as a means of survival. This then raises a question about the inconsistency between people having a large sweet tooth and those who don’t as much.

A recent study conducted by Monell and the QIMR Berghofer Research Institute indicates that a single set of genes in each person affects his or her perception of sweet tastes. A lead researcher in the study, Danielle Reed, compares one’s genetic tendencies toward sweets as similar to a person born with a hearing impediment. Just as someone who is born with a hearing impediment may need to listen to music at a higher volume, a person with a weaker taste for sweets may crave added sugars in their diet because they aren’t as sensitive to them.

Certain people are simply born with the inability to satisfy his or her taste for sweets. These people then need to consume more to fulfill their cravings. The variations in people’s taste receptor genes rationalize why some people prefer sweets than others.

Yet even as senses differ from person to person, they also vary between different age groups. One common piece of knowledge is that children tend to like sweeter foods more than adults do. This concept is also based in genetics.

Children’s strong preferences toward foods extremely high in sugar are linked to their development. Related to the survival instincts that cause animals to crave sugar for its high caloric and nutrient intake, children desire sugars because they are still growing. From an evolutionary point of view, children with a higher caloric intake are more likely to survive thanks to receiving sufficient nutrients.

The Monell study also found that there is not much evidence that links environmental influence with a person’s perception of sweetness. This finding discredits the notion that people who are exposed to more sweets are more likely to have a bigger “sweet tooth.”

With all of this new information discovered about our sugar intake, scientists have been researching ways in which people can combat too much sugar in their diets. There are many harmful effects of consuming too much sugar that can affect your body both externally and internally. The human craving for sugar, still innate as a result of our evolution, no longer serves us the same purpose that it did in the past, at least not the large amount that Americans consume on average.

The sugar within foods today is not the same natural and helpful sugar as was present in the environmental fruits and such. The artificial sugars within foods today potentially have cancer-causing agents and are not wholesome sources of nutrients. With this new information, scientists now have the chance to better understand human cravings and pioneer ways to pacify those senses for the betterment of our health.

Jessica Chaiken can be reached at jchaiken@umass.edu.

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