Why do we like the sweet stuff so much?

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[Reading level: C1 – Advanced]

Quality of food matters to animals. If we look back a few million years, it was the quality of food coupled with serious mental challenges in acquiring food that increased our brain size, and helped us evolve from arboreal monkeys to human beings. Early humans ate a diet rich in protein and plant nutrients, cleverly combining meat and fruit to obtain maximum nourishment.

 

That was long ago. Human diets may not have changed much till the invention of agriculture, when our ancestors started eating cooked cereals. We grew shorter and our brains started reducing in size for the first time after increasing three times through several million years. Our brains have continued to shrink in the last 10,000 years, but this doesn’t mean we have become less smart.

 

It may be a way to make the brain more efficient. It may also be that frequent famines and food shortages have affected our development, and availability of food now is reversing the shrinking of our brains.

 

While this is speculation at the moment, an abundance of food has certainly affected human beings and their brains in a different way.

 

By making them sick.

Over thousands of years, bodies of human beings have adapted to scarcity in many ways. We stored fat around our bellies, to be used up when food became scarce. When we continue to eat and accumulate belly fat through many years, our body processes are no longer able to cope. Result? Diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

 

In the old days, when human beings were living in the forest, sweetness was an indication that a particular thing was safe to eat. We knew fruits were safe because they were sweet. There is probably no food in nature that is both sweet and toxic. So the brain developed a reward pathway that made eating sweet foods pleasurable, and forced people to eat such things more and more when hungry.

 

This was fine in nature, as these foods were not just sweet. They were also packed with nutrition. “Food was scarce in the forest,” says Ashley Gearhardt, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, “and sweet things were packed with calories.” The brain is an energy-hungry organ that needed a constant supply of calories.

 

Fruits have had an important role in our evolution. The dexterity of our hands may be an adaptation to pluck fruit. A fondness for sweet things was an adaptation that gave people energy and, probably, saved their lives. Things are different now. Human beings have completely altered their food environment, and a once-useful adaption has been turned on its head. We have taken the sweetness out of food and used it in isolation, away from all the good stuff that comes packed with it in nature. Desserts and sugary drinks spike your blood sugar quickly. Fruits seldom do so, unless you eat too much too quickly, which is a very difficult thing to do in a natural environment.

 

Nature rarely makes a substance in isolation. Fruits come with fibre and other stuff that slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Which is why an orange and a glass of orange juice have completely different effects on our body. Taking the sugar out of fruits was an unnatural thing to do. The brain used an adaptation that once saved lives to the new situation, without understanding the difference. The results were disastrous.

 

Sweetness in isolation has thus become deadly, the precursor of many illnesses. To make it worse, our brains were also fooled into believing that the sweet stuff was good for you, thus making you eat more and more of it. This behaviour was good when eating fruits in an age of scarcity. But not when eating desserts in an age of plenty.

 

Source: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/just-desserts-why-do-we-like-the-sweet-stuff-so-much/articleshow/57470027.cms?from=mdr&fbclid=IwAR0EwAq1Vxij1f6ljE8ygJYYlIoHxq3smHFsuqd23prq6jZxz_jNGy3k58M

WORD BANK

arboreal /ɑːˈbɔː.ri.əl/ (adj): sống trên cây

nourishment /ˈnʌr.ɪʃ.mənt/ (n): dinh dưỡng

shrink /ʃrɪŋk/ [B2] (v): thu nhỏ, co lại

speculation /ˌspek.jəˈleɪ.ʃən/ [C1] (n): sự suy đoán

abundance /əˈbʌn.dəns/ (n): sự dồi dào

adapt /əˈdæpt/ [B2] (v): thích nghi

accumulate /əˈkjuː.mjə.leɪt/ [C2] (v): tích tụ, tích lũy

diabetes /ˌdaɪ.əˈbiː.tiːz/ (n): bệnh tiểu đường

indication /ˈɪn.dɪ.keɪt/ [C1] (n): dấu hiệu

dexterity /dekˈster.ə.ti/ (n): sự khéo léo

pluck /plʌk/ (v): hái

spike /spaɪk/ (v): làm tăng

fibre /ˈfaɪ.bər/ (n): chất xơ

disastrous /dɪˈzɑː.strəs/ [C1] (adj): thảm khốc

precursor /ˌpriːˈkɜː.sər/ (n): điềm báo trước

coupled with sth (pre): cùng với cái gì

evolve /ɪˈvɒlv/ [C1] (v): tiến hóa

ancestor /ˈæn.ses.tər/ [B2] (n): tổ tiên

cereal /ˈsɪə.ri.əl/ [C1] (n): ngũ cốc

efficient /ɪˈfɪʃ.ənt/ [B1] (adj): hiệu quả

famine /ˈfæm.ɪn/ [C2] (n): nạn đói

reverse /rɪˈvɜːs/ [C1] (v): đảo ngược

scarcity /ˈskeə.sə.ti/ [C2] (n): sự khan hiếm

reward /rɪˈwɔːd/ [B1] (n): phần thưởng

pathway /ˈpɑːθ.weɪ/ (n): con đường, lối đi

pleasurable /ˈpleʒ.ər.ə.bəl/ [C1] (adj): dễ chịu

constant /ˈkɒn.stənt/ (adj): liên tục.

fondness for sweet (n): hảo ngọt

alter /ˈɒl.tər/ [B2] (v): thay đổi

sth turn(s) on its head (idiom): thay đổi hoàn toàn

fool /fuːl/ [B2] (v): đánh lừa


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