Why does the sweet taste exert such an attraction, as much in the young as in the big ones, ensuring us an immediate gustatory pleasure but some health misfortunes later. It’s not easy to reduce your sugar intake, and yet this is what is most necessary to limit the explosion of civilization diseases: diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cancers…
From a strictly biological point of view, the main function of taste is to identify foods that contain substances essential to the proper functioning of our body while detecting the presence of certain toxic products that can threaten the integrity of the body. This detection function is crucial, because by managing to select from the external environment only those substances compatible with health, it contributes to maintaining the homeostasis of the body, that is to say the balance of the internal environment allowing different organs to function harmoniously.
The detection of the taste of food calls upon a sophisticated system located at the level of the taste buds, structures which are present in several regions of the tongue. When food mixes with saliva, the molecules they contain attach themselves to the surface of these buds where they are specifically recognized by receptors. To date, receptors specific to five main types of distinct flavors have been described: sweet, salty, sour (acid), bitter and umami (protein).
The feeling of pleasure that is associated with the presence of sugar in food is due to the essential role that this substance plays in sustaining life. Indeed, sugar represents a privileged source of energy which can be quickly used by the cells of our body, in particular at the level of the brain, which alone consumes almost 80% of daily sugar. When present in high enough concentrations in the saliva, the sugar molecules interact with two receptors located in the taste buds (named T1R2 and T1R3), which causes the activation of a nerve impulse signaling to the brain the presence of a food that has a good caloric value.
Fake sugar makes you fat
However, stimulation of the T1R2 and T1R3 receptors does not make it possible to determine exactly the substance responsible for the sweet taste and it is possible to “trick” the brain by using molecules which interact with the receptors, while being devoid of energy. For example, aspartame is a substance recognized by sugar receptors and it is for this reason that this sweetener is widely used by the food industry to manufacture “light” foods or drinks which imitate the sweet taste without as much cause the absorption of calories.
However, it seems that the brain is not so easily fooled and can in turn stimulate the appetite to compensate for the lack of calories from sweeteners: for example, several studies suggest that “light” soft drinks, therefore without calories, do not cause the expected reduction in body weight and in some cases may even cause an increase.
Sugar and Addiction: Health Issues Upon Arrival
The intensity of pleasure associated with the consumption of foods that contain energy-dense substances such as sugar (as well as fat) can, however, become so powerful that it can disrupt the control mechanisms involved in appetite regulation. .
For example, we now know that sugar causes the release of chemical messengers in the brain, notably dopamine, which activate reward and pleasure systems in a way similar to the effects caused by drugs such as nicotine, alcohol or cocaine! As with any form of addiction, it goes without saying that excessive stimulation of these pleasure centers by foods overloaded with sugar can generate an addiction which, in the medium and longer term, causes overconsumption of food and the storage of this excess energy in the form of fat.
On a daily basis, we must therefore learn to control this instinct to avoid the absorption of excess calories and the multitude of health problems that are linked to obesity.