Many of the evils of society are blamed on sugar.
Unlike our evolutionary ancestors, who had to fight and forage for hits of of the sweet stuff, mainly in fruit form, we are barraged by sucrose and fructose in every decadent, unhealthy, and delicious form imaginable.
Yet for all of the hate that sugar gets, we still need it to survive, and our drive for it remains strong as ever.
Research from the Monell Center suggests that low-sugar diets, while undoubtedly healthier, do nothing to quell our hard-wired drive for sugar. Not only that, it would appear that going on a low-sugar diet also makes sweet food taste even sweeter. And that isn't a bad thing, according to lead author Paul Wise, a sensory psychologist at Monell.
"Overconsumption of sugar is widely believed to contribute to obesity and related health problems such as heart disease," said Wise, in a press release. "If people could adjust to a lower-sugar diet over time without affecting food acceptance, it might be possible to gradually reduce added sugars in food and beverages without causing rejection."
In order to come to this conclusion, the team of psychologists separated participants into two groups—a "control" group of 16 subjects with "normal" diets and a "reduced-sugar" group of 13 subjects who were instructed to replace 40 percent of calories from sugars with fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates over the same time period.
Turns out that over that period, the reduced-sugar group subjectively rated the same products as sweeter than the individuals who were not sugar-restricted.
"People who had been on a low-sugar diet for three months quickly went back to their previous sugar levels when given a choice. This rapid rebound suggests that people may resist changes in the sugar level of their diets," Prof. Wise noted, adding that these results contradicts earlier studies at Monell Center which found that people placed on a low-salt diet came to like lower levels of salt in their food.
Needless to say, these findings could also prove useful for public health policy. "The factors that underlie liking for sugar and salt may differ," said study co-author Gary Beauchamp, PhD, a behavioral biologist at Monell.
"The salt findings formed part of the rationale for the National Academy of Sciences' recommendation to decrease salt consumption by gradually lowering the amount of salt in prepared and restaurant foods. Modern diets contain a large proportion of calories as sugar, but this same tactic may not work as well to help reduce the amount of sugar that people consume."
Public health concerns aside, it's worth noting that this study was funded in part by PepsiCo, which suggests that the big soda companies are also trying to better understand the addictive, mind-numbing sweetness that makes them billions of dollars per year.