Desensitizing Your Sweet Tooth

By | March 18, 2015

The article Hooked on sweets? in the March 2015 Kaiser Permanente of Northern California newsletter recommends reducing your cravings for sweets by eating no or very little sugar or artificial sweetener for two weeks.  Theoretically I agree with that recommendation – but in practice many people are going to switch to fatty and salty food and/or will spend two weeks feeling deprived ending the two week sugar fast with a stronger sugar craving.  Instead of simply cutting all sugar you should train your taste buds to appreciate sour, bitter, and umami (savory) tastes as well as sweet and salty – and the best way of doing that is to eat meals that get their flavor from fresh, whole foods and creatively used healthful condiments and seasonings.  (Heavily processed food usually has sugar, fat, and salt back-added in order to mask off-notes and/or to liven up food that’s literally had all the flavor cooked out.)

I also take issue with the article’s indiscriminate and inaccurate statements on sweeteners.  First, while consumption of sweeteners such as cane and beet sugar increases one’s craving for more sweets, the consumption of sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia does not.  It’s much better to satisfy a desire for a sweet afternoon treat with a xylitol candy or a square of stevia-sweetened chocolate than to spend the rest of the day dreaming of sugar plums.

Second, the article lists monk fruit (luo han guo) and stevia as “Artificial sweeteners” (along with brand names such as Equal and Splenda) while it lists  dextrose and high fructose corn syrup as “Sugars” – the implication being that the sweeteners on the Sugars list are ‘natural’ while the others are artificial.  Stevia traditionally was made by drying and crumbling leaves of Stevia rebaudiana – a much less processed sweetener and closer to organically occurring sweetener than high fructose corn syrup.  Sugar alcohols such as xylitol (which was not included on either list) is naturally occurring (in small amounts) in many fruits and vegetables.  I recommend avoiding sweeteners that don’t occur in nature, minimizing your consumption of simple carbohydrates – especially in the form of an added sweetener, and substituting high-calorie sweeteners such as cane sugar and honey for low-calorie ones such as xylitol and stevia.  Following these rules I would not eat a banana for evening dessert (as is suggested in the article’s sample menu).


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