Why it’s so tough to get rid of a sweet tooth

WASHINGTON — Studies show too much sugar is bad for your health, and we are urged to slash consumption. But as anyone who has ever had a midnight craving for a bowl of rocky road will tell you, it can be a tough thing to do.

That may be because, in a way, we are wired for sugar.

“There are sweet receptors throughout your whole gastrointestinal tract,” says Dr. Domenica Rubino, an endocrinologist and director of the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research in Shirlington, Virginia.

She says whether or not people can be addicted to sugar is a matter of debate, but one thing is clear: As you eat more sugar your palate changes, and you tend to want things that are super sweet or artificially sweet.

The good news is, dial back sugar consumption and the palate returns to normal, gradually responding to the natural sweetness in fruits and even vegetables.

“Fundamentally, you need to reduce added sugar,” says Rubino, pointing to the stuff added to all kinds of foods that come out of a factory — from cola to packaged bread.

“If you make bread there is no additional sugar. But in all the bread at the grocery stores, there is a teaspoon of sugar in every slice,” she says.

That is why it is so important to read labels, and be wary of any processed foods. Some people can cut off all added sugar and go cold turkey, while others need to wean themselves off slowly, especially if they have a soda habit.

As for artificial sweeteners, Rubino says the jury is still out. She says there is some evidence that they can stimulate the sweet receptors in the body, but for her diabetic patients a diet soda is a better alternative than one that is loaded with sugar.

Better still, of course, is to opt for water. Rubino says when her patients make the shift they find that their cravings for sweet foods begin to fade away.

So, how much added sugar in your diet is OK? The World Health Organization used to recommend limiting sugar to 10 percent of total calories. Last year, the WHO lowered its target to 5 percent.

“I think that is reasonable,” says Rubino, adding, “cutting it in half is not that difficult.”

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