With the new USDA guidelines getting even stricter on sugar, the war against our sweet tooth is getting heated. Which is why a small study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is giving us some major hope.
We all know what that afternoon sugar craving feels like. So the researchers in the study decided to test their theory that we could actually train ourselves to crave less sugar. To do that, they flipped the idea of taste tolerance on its head. Typically, tolerance is a bad thing when it comes to our diet goals: The more we get used to eating something (like sugar or salt), the more of it we need to get the same satisfaction over time. In other words, if you have two diet sodas a day, they no longer feel like a sweet treat and you might find yourself wanting to add in a post-lunch handful of candy to get that same sweet, reward-like feeling. (Find out what your food cravings actually mean.)
The researchers hypothesized that if we could build up that tolerance, we could also reduce it and ultimately nix those sugar cravings. In the study (which was funded by Monell Chemical Senses Center and PepsiCo), First, researchers rounded up participants who said they regularly drank at least two sugar-sweetened beverages a day and had them rate the sweetness of some sweetened puddings and drinks. Then, they asked half of the participants to cut their regular sugar intake by 40 percent for a three-month duration. During that time, the participants who were regularly skimping on sugar consistently rated sweetened foods as tasting sweeter than those in the control group, who maintained their normal sugar-heavy food intake, did.
The major caveat: After the three-month period of sugar restriction, the participants went right back to their pre-study levels of sugar consumption. But the findings do indicate that it is possible to manipulate our perception of taste and ultimately craving. Researchers hope future studies will examine how we might be able to manipulate taste in a more permanent way, but in the meantime, we can still use this principle to teach ourselves to crave something other than sugar---the more often we eat our veggies, the more we'll want. (And we've got a Smart Trick to Satisfy Cravings for Fewer Calories.)