Assumed: Your perception of sweetness is very skewed

This is another entry in my “assumptions” series, in which my intention is to explain one of my underlying assumptions definitively, so the next time I feel the need to veer away from a post’s point at hand to provide full background, I can just link to the full thought and let others veer, if they choose to.

Assumption: Your perception of sweetness is very skewed.

Several points about refined sugar:

* The government issues recommended daily allowances — how much you should have daily to ensure nutritional health — for vitamins and minerals, but there is no RDA for refined sugar. Why? It’s not a vitamin, not a mineral, not nutritious.

* However: The American Heart Association steps into that breach, recommending that refined sugar be limited to 6 teaspoons a day for women, 9 teaspoons a day for men. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons a day. Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health says that of the 600,000 food items sold in America, 80 percent have added sugar. In a single can of Pepsi, there are 11.

* So: The average American is steeping in sugar syrup every day, conditioned to sense that 22 teaspoons of sugar a day is the right amount. Even going down to, say, 15 — still well above the recommended level — would seem like a deficit.

I am fond of asserting that if any large group jointly decided to go without all refined sugar for, say, 30 days — long enough to grow accustomed to it — that 35 or 40 percent would choose not to go back. Not because they would be struck virtuous. Not because they would have been magically transformed to no longer like ice cream. But because once they’d experienced life without it, they would like it better.

* I’m fond of saying this because a) I think it’s true, and b) I have no fear of contradiction! Suggest that to most people and their reaction is, “I’d rather die.” This suggests that there is, perhaps, an unhealthful attachment to the substance, but it’s all but impossible to get the average American steeped in sugar syrup to see it.

Why do I think this? Because it’s what happened to me, about 25 years ago. It was suggested to me that I give up refined sugar, and I did, just like that. In my case, I had a greater attachment to eating volume than eating a specific substance, which is why I didn’t blanch in the way many Americans would.

This didn’t mean that I no longer thought ice cream was pleasurable, that carrot cake was dreamy, or that the chocolate mousse I so enjoyed making was freakishly good. (Ahem.) It meant that having sampled life with and without, on balance, I liked without better. I found that refined sugar had been triggering a craving, that once I had it, I would strongly desire more.

The few times I’ve had a dose in all these years, usually by accident (such as guzzling the wrong soda bottle), I’ve found that it led almost instantly to one or more of: slight headache, clammy skin, dry mouth, elevated heart rate. My conjecture is that these manifestations are always at work, but that perceiving them is much easier going from zero to 10 than from 80 to 90.

And, *very rarely* do I feel deprived. Sometimes I see someone with an ice cream that looks particularly lush, but frankly, I miss floury products more than sweet ones. I get plenty of sweetness from fresh fruit and raw and roasted vegetables. I expect some will scoff at that, especially the idea of, say, carmelized turnips, because they’ve had them and been unimpressed.

But they, on average, have been having 22 teaspoons of refined — which is to say, intensified — sugar every day. How is nature’s sweetness to compare with that?

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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