jump to navigation

Write Every day No Exceptions – Why do we like sugar? June 11, 2010

Posted by Conventioneering in Job Get!, write every day no exceptions.
Tags: ,

This entry was originally posted on June 6, but in the process of trying to delete an entirely different entry, I accidentally deleted this one. As that was completely not my intention, I am re-posting it, this time with a few minor edits. Sorry for any confusion this may cause.


The other day we had a book signing at the National Air and Space Museum. This is pretty common – we have about one a week. This one, however, was a bit unusual because the gentleman who happened to be doing the signing also had an exhibit: Michael Benson. Both the book and the exhibit were called “Beyond: Visions of our Solar System”, and involved an extensive collection of photographs taken by various probes and telescopes of the little patch of the Milky Way we call home. If you’re in the area, I can’t recommend this exhibit enough. It has some of the most spectacular photos I’ve ever seen of our neighboring planets, my particular favorite being a photo of two of Jupiter’s moons seeming to hover over the surface of the gas giant.

Michael had brought his young son with him – I think the boy was about nine years old. Like most nine year olds, he was bored. While I find book signings fascinating, this is because I get to talk the ears off of authors in a variety of field and talk to customers with a genuine interest in . To a nine year old, however, none of this has any relevance at all. In this case, the author was his dad, and why would you ever want to talk to your dad, the customers were all strangers and that cashier lady with the red hair talked too much about nothing. He busied himself by running into the store to see if there was anything interesting, failing to find anything interesting, and reading The Hardy Boys. He also kept asking if he could buy candy. Michael said yes, and I said yes, but I had to tell the kid that he couldn’t eat it inside the museum and had to wait till he left. This, of course, didn’t please him at all. He wanted that candy now.

This went on for a while, until about an hour before Michael was supposed to leave. At this point, we’d been there for a few hours, and the boy (whose name I can’t remember, unfortunately, and I wish I could) was getting truly antsy. I couldn’t blame him: I remember countless times that my mother stayed after at some theater event when I’d get utterly bored and want to leave. In an effort to get his attention, I said,

“Why don’t you go see some of our exhibits? They’re really cool!”

“I don’t want to.”

At this point, both Michael and I started trying to convince the kid to go see some exhibits, and he kept stubbornly refusing. It’s hard for me to remember the exact conversation, but I seem to remember talking with Michael about the difficulty of interesting kids in this sort of thing. I could only shrug helplessly – as a kid, while I found my mother’s job terribly boring, I was endlessly fascinated by science and remember spending hours at this very museum (one reason why I can rattle off useless trivia about the artifacts at the drop of a hat). Meanwhile, the kid started asking about candy again.

“Look,” I said. “You have to be more curious about the world around you. You keep asking about candy and sugar, but have you ever considered why you like sugar? Why don’t you try to find that out? Why is sugar even sweet?”

This didn’t really help the situation, but luckily for the kid the book signing was over. I’m not sure if he ever got his candy, but the idea of ‘why do humans like sugar’ stuck with me. I’d be a very poor writer and wannabe scientist if I didn’t at least make a cursory glance into the matter.

Lucky for me, I live in the twenty-first century, which means I have access to this marvelous oracle named Google. Unlike the Greeks, I don’t have to rely on somewhat loopy young women in caves, and I don’t have to spend weeks digging around fruitlessly in the library trying to get an answer (not that I mind doing so, but this is ‘write every day no exceptions’, which means I don’t have much time.)

Before I began, I had my own hypothesis about why we like sugar, based on having read an awful lot of books on evolutionary biology as a kid. I figured that our primate ancestors really needed the calories, since one could never be sure where one’s next meal was coming from, and thus the ones that liked sweet things lived longer and were overall healthier animals, and thus had a higher chance of breeding. They were able to get the energy and nutrients they needed because something in them told them “oh man! That thing we just ate was awesome, let’s find more of that!” This continued to be an extremely valuable trait right up until we developed the ability to make our own sugar. Before then, people still didn’t always know where their next meal was coming from, and, again, the ones that had more access to delicious sweet things lived longer.

Along comes processed sugar. Now we can have delicious sweet things whenever we want! But like anything taken in excess, now it works to our detriment, causing us to consume massively more sugar than we need. Or, well, most of us anyway – I myself don’t particularly like the taste of processed sugar, and I know quite a few others who don’t either! I wonder if that might turn into a survival trait later on: people who eat too much sugar develop obesity and diabetes, while those of us geared to consume it only in moderation live longer, healthier lives and have the chance to attract more mates. But that’s neither here nor there.

Given that I write these essays on the train as I go to work, I don’t have much time to do in-depth research, so like I said, I just typed the question into google. I got a lot of health and fitness sites, but, as it turns out, the majority of the ones I read agree almost exactly with my hypothesis! To give three examples: FitnessMantra.info has an article on this, albeit with a lot of severely anachronistic references to running from dinosaurs (are there seriously still people who believe that humans and dinosaurs coexisted? I mean, really.). An article from LiveScience.com agrees, but with fewer dinosaurs and more references to actual studies (in this case, a glycoscinece study conducted by the European Science Foundation). Finally, there’s an article on sugar cravings from HowToThinkThin.com. Not bad for a five minute google search. I’d still prefer to find an actual scientific study rather than just blog posts and anecdotal evidence, but the fact that these articles all agree (and believe me, these weren’t the only ones; I got quite a few hits) suggests that my guess was at least partially correct.

There’s really no excuse not to have a curious mind in this day and age. Information is so readily available to us, why don’t more of us just ask questions?



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: