Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How Sweet It Is

In my last post, I got all misty-eyed about cake, probably a result of having recently eaten a small piece of cake at a gathering. I was really proud of myself for having only a tiny serving, but I couldn’t help but notice how much I desperately wanted a second and also how much willpower was required to resist a second. That got me thinking. Like how one grilled chicken breast doesn’t automatically make me crave another. Same with a cup of steamed broccoli. But cake is different. Strangely, I’ve observed this same effect when drinking diet soda, or if I put Splenda in my iced tea. There is something about the sensation of sweetness that is different from other tastes, something that makes me yearn for more.

I don’t think I’m alone in lusting after sweetness. Just look at what happened to poor Michael Bloomberg. When he announced his proposed ban on 32-ounce servings of sweetened soft drinks, he set off a firestorm. Yes, of course, the beverage industry hit back in full force, appealing to the sacred American right to kill ourselves with bad health habits, just because we can. But a lot of regular folks got outraged too. You want to take away my big soda? Really? Now, Mayor Mike was targeting non-diet drinks only, but I can say from personal experience that soft drinks, even diet soft drinks, can be highly addictive. My drug of choice is Diet Dr. Pepper. Diet Dr. Pepper has no sugar in it whatsoever, but it does contain aspartame and it is profoundly, outrageously, otherworldly sweet.

If you read food labels (and for those intent on maintaining a large weight loss, it’s a habit that must be cultivated), you’ll notice something: everything has been sweetened in some way. It’s as if no modern processed food can respect itself unless it contains at least one of these as an ingredient: refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cane juice or no-calorie sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose or stevia. I have had difficulty finding even whole wheat bread that does not contain a sweetener of some sort. And I have to say that there is something profoundly disappointing about searching for a hearty, chewy whole grain bread only to find that the second ingredient listed is high fructose corn syrup.

To be fair, it must be noted that it has become ultra-chic to lament sugar as one of the most damaging of the diet demons du jour. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that sugar be classified as a toxin, confirming every conspiracy theorist’s worst nightmare about what all those cute little “grandmothers” are doing in the kitchen (Can you imagine the movie title? Crouching Cookie, Hidden Calorie!). Yet I’m starting to think that there may be no difference between actual sugar and the sensation of sweetness. Both the full and no-calorie versions of this taste sensation produce the same toe-curling ecstasy that just makes us want more. And more. And more.

What would happen if food wasn’t sweet? If we weren’t being bathed in the syrupy nectar of the Saccharin Goddess, day in and day out? Would it make a difference in the obesity rate? Would it make a difference for me, in my struggle to maintain my weight loss? I don’t know, but I’ve decided to try something. I’ve sworn off sweet. I’m still eating fruit, but nothing that has added sugar or artificial sweeteners. That includes my beloved Diet Dr. Pepper. And already, about a week into the experiment, I’ve noticed I have less food cravings in the evening.

Now that’s sweet!


  1. Interesting. I haven't sworn off diet coke yet. But I have admitted to myself that I always want something sweet WITH my diet coke. I don't want the diet coke by itself. But I haven't quite given it up yet...

  2. I'll let you know how it works out. As I said, I seem to be having less food cravings since I stopped eating things that are sweet. The first few days were hard, but now it's starting to seem normal.

  3. You make a good point, Sandy. I heard it suggested recently that even diet sodas are a bad idea for weight control; while they don't have the calories themselves, they still leave us with a taste for sweet things. It seems to make sense.


    1. I haven't had diet soda in a week. It's hard for me to believe that because I'm incredibly addicted to it. I'm starting to notice that food tastes a little different too, almost like my taste buds have changed. Very interesting experiemnt!