Have a Sweet Tooth? Here’s the Science Behind Your Sugary Cravings

It’s late at night. You finished dinner a few hours ago, and now you are in serious need of something sweet – a few hard candies, a slice of chocolate cake, a peanut butter cookie, anything you can sink your teeth into. You know that these empty calories aren’t healthy, but you want something sweet like it’s the last thing you’ll ever eat.

Our sweet tooth can be like the little devil on our shoulder, tempting us to eat something unhealthy, even if we aren’t hungry. But in reality, that little devil is our brain.

Picture this. You are outside in your backyard enjoying the nice summer weather. You hear kids playing, dogs barking, lawn mowers. Suddenly, you get a craving for something sweet, but not just any sweet treat, an ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles on top!

Food cravings can be sparked by several different things, but they all originate from your brain. When we eat something, our brain connects all five of our senses (taste, hearing, sight, smell and touch) to create either a good or bad experience with that food.

How Our Environment Affects Our Cravings

Habit or Routine – Let’s say you drink a can of soda every day at 3 p.m., chances are, you will start to crave the sugary beverage around that time each day, just out of habit! When we get into unhealthy routines, it can be difficult to stop them.

Memories – Just like a certain smell can take you back to when you were younger, certain foods can spark memories, too! Do you have to have a hotdog with mustard every time you are at the ballpark? Or what about cotton candy at the fair? The foods that we eat and the memories we associate with them can cause us to crave those foods.

Emotions – Bad break ups, rough days, bad news. They can all lead you to go home, plop on the couch, and scoop up bites of cookie dough or dig into a pint of ice cream. Celebrating a birthday? What kind of celebration would it be without cake! Our emotions, whether they be good or bad, can influence what foods we crave and when we crave them.

Seeing or Smelling – Sometimes, just seeing or smelling certain foods makes us crave them! Who can resist the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven? Some companies even use carefully-selected smells (both real and artificial) to get you to stay longer, spend more, and eat more.

How Sweet Tooths Are Influenced By Genetics

Our first experience with taste actually happens before we are born. Studies show that at just 21 weeks, babies in the womb can experience taste and are starting to develop taste preferences.

There are five main tastes that our tastebuds can perceive – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (also known as savory). Thanks to our genetic makeup, our taste buds are more sensitive to some of these tastes, as well as certain textures. This is why we either have a sweet tooth, or don’t.

For example, in the 1900s, scientists discovered that certain genes allow individuals to experience certain tastes. During their experiment, they found that whether a person has one, two, or no copies of the gene TAS2R38, determines if they will find powdered PTC (phenylthiocarbamide), somewhat bitter, very bitter, or can’t taste it at all.

Healthy Ways to Treat Your Sweet Tooth

If you have a sweet tooth, you know that just telling yourself not to enjoy a sweet treat now and then isn’t always realistic. Instead of sticking a fork in a leftover piece of cake from the fridge, or indulging in a box of cookies, try these healthier choices, but keep portion control in mind!

Peanut Butter Popcorn – Pop a mini bag of popcorn and top with a little scoop of peanut butter and a sprinkle of cocoa powder.

Chocolate Avocado PuddingThis make-ahead snack is perfect to grab on the fly when you are craving something sweet. Just blend an avocado, some cocoa powder, and honey and vanilla as needed!

Sweet Potato PancakesThese pancakes will satisfy your craving for something cakey and sweet! Skip the maple syrup and eat them with honey, nuts, greek yogurt, or any other healthy topping. The best part? They are gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free!

Banana Poppers – Slice a banana, cover in dark chocolate, and freeze! These little bites are perfect to pop out when you need a quick sugar kick!

Smoothies – Toss your favorite fruits with a few superfoods, like chia seeds, into a blender and make a quick smoothie!