In "Adaptation-Executers, not Fitness-Maximisers", Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

"Fifty thousand years ago, the taste buds of Homo sapiens directed their bearers to the scarcest, most critical food resources—sugar and fat. Calories, in a word. Today, the context of a taste bud's function has changed, but the taste buds themselves have not. Calories, far from being scarce (in First World countries), are actively harmful. Micronutrients that were reliably abundant in leaves and nuts are absent from bread, but our taste buds don't complain. A scoop of ice cream is a superstimulus, containing more sugar, fat, and salt than anything in the ancestral environment."

This contradicts with my personal experience, since last week I followed a diet consisting almost exclusively of pasta and sugar, and then came to long for vegetables while sugar became distasteful. Perhaps I am committing the typical mind fallacy, but I should at least try to verify Yudkowsky's claim.

So, what about you? This site mentions that women should take no more than 24 grams a day of sugar, and men no more than 36 grams. The average American takes 88.
Can you please:

-state how much sugar you usually take daily
-state how you usually feel about eating sugar
-change your habits today
-report on how that influenced your feelings?

(I don't have the means to organize a real study, am not aware of any done on the subject, and I hope anecdotal evidence might still be overwhelming enough to give a result.)

New to LessWrong?

New Answer
New Comment

8 Answers sorted by

I wonder how much sugar could I eat in a day if I completely turned off my self-control, but it's probably measured in kilograms. Probably couldn't do it for more than a day, because it would make me sick. However, two days later I could probably do it again.

How do I feel about eating sugar? It's the greatest thing ever invented... except for the consequences. I assume that drug addicts feel the same.

Changing habits requires a lot of willpower, which is a scarce resource. Problem is, it doesn't matter how much willpower I successfully exercise during most of the day... it only takes a short moment to consume my daily dose of sugar.

I don't think there is a limit on how much sugar I'd enjoy.  I may get sick of particular kinds of sugar-containing food, but the idea of feeling any sort of desire for or aversion to specific components of food seems alien to me. 

I've cut it out for the past 5 years or so just for health reasons, but I used to drink a lot of soda. Two hundred grams worth of sugar on average is my best estimate.

I had a challenging time stopping, but I think it was more because of the ritual and habits around the soda consumption than it was due to any specific nutrients. (I substituted other caffeine products)

Short answer: Yes. 

Long answer: 100g per day on average

I don't like very sweet sweets. There are few sweets that I really like and most of these have less than 50% sugar. If I eat too much sweets I get a strange feeling in my mouth and some kind of aversion to eat more. 

I did stop eating all types of sweets for a week while on a 9-day meditation retreat. It was easy, no craving. I did pick up eating sweets immediately after the retreat. My guess is that it is related to how much exercise I get and how long I stay awake.

I don't have hard data, but sugar is very much a superstimulus for me. If I eat something sweet like ice cream, I'll keep eating until it's gone with no real chance of self control. I've previously devoured 52oz tubs of ice cream or an entire plate of cookies.

Sugar, salt, and fat reliably triggers this pattern, to the point where I avoid concentrations of such unless I'm okay with eating the entire thing at once.

If I eat lots of junk food for a long time, I'll crave healthier stuff but empirically it takes a couple months.

The problem is that (as someone who hates to cook) sugar is not  only delicious, but also much easier to get than vegetables.   My diet consists of 1 meal per day of "real" food and everything else is just sugary snacks (ice cream, cookies, trail mix).  

I consume 90 to 100g /day, mostly in the form of whole fruit.

I used to get more than that, from cookies, ice cream, and similar junk food, because I reacted to it as a superstimulus. I've weaned myself from those cravings over the past decade or so.

There's no good evidence that sugar is inherently harmful. It only seems to be bad if your diet is low in other nutrients that are normally found with sugar in the ancestral environment. E.g fiber (I eat about 50g / day) and potassium (I get at least 4.5g/day).

  1. State how much sugar you usually take daily

This is difficult to quantify, since there's sugar hiding in everything and I don't keep track. But just to give a general ballpark idea, I'd say my sugar intake, left unchecked, ranges from "relatively high" to "if you cut me, I would literally bleed chocolate syrup."

  1. State how you usually feel about eating sugar

According to AncestryDNA, I have a variant form of one of the three genes associated with taste perception which makes me especially sensitive to sweet flavors as well as bitter. I can attest to the latter but not the former. For example, I think green juices made from kale taste like ass sweat squeezed out of old hemp underwear, but I do not experience anything similar with regard to sweets. I love sweets.

In fact, I love sweets so much that it has become an active threat to my health. Consequently, I often feel guilty for eating them. Lately, I have been replacing sweets with more nutritional options.

  1. Change your habits today

Check; however, please note that I have not attempted to track or eliminate the "hidden sugars" in, say, sandwich bread, ketchup, etc.

  1. Report on how that influenced your feelings?

Well, because I have been swapping out sweets for healthier snacks that actually offer some nutritional benefit, I have noticed a marked improvement in my mood overall. I'm more patient. My skin looks better. I sleep better. I think more clearly and can concentrate for longer. I'm less "jittery" and far more motivated to do things that are constructive.

I don't know if these improvements are all caused by the dietary changes, but I don't know what else to attribute them to. Probably to some degree it's simply placebo effect and positive feedback loops. I have noticed on days when I am overly indulgent in sugar, I end up feeling like crap, sometimes for a couple days, but I suspect this is at least partly because that is what I'm expecting.

Sometimes after a healthy meal I feel euphoria similar to the "high" one gets from exercising. It is very different from the "high" one gets from eating "bad" foods.

And yet...I find that I still WANT to eat sugar, which at this point I'm beginning to think should be a schedule 1 controlled substance.

Approximate amount: 50-60g maybe? I like to add juuust a little to tea and other drinks, about 1-2g / 100ml. Completely unsweetened (and I count nut milks as sweetener too) irritates my stomach for some reason. (And plain unflavored water causes nausea, so teas it is.) There's also often a teaspoon or two in some meals to balance acidity or bring out spices. Rarely some chocolate (80-99% cocoa) or a slice of home-baked cake. (I tend to halve the amount of sugar in recipes.) Fruits (fresh or dried) also contain non-negligible amounts.

How I feel about sugar: A little is somewhere between fine and awesome (seriously, add a sprinkle to your carrots when boiling/frying them!), a lot is just disgusting. (Most sodas are too sweet for my tastes. I still have a pack of gummy bears sitting in the sweets drawer that's been there for almost two years by now... still untouched.) I can absentmindedly absorb about half a bar of (dark) chocolate of the course of a few hours, but then it just stops - I won't eat the rest within the next 2 or 3 days. Dried fruits are more "dangerous", here I can fairly easily eat serious amounts before having enough of them. (But even that saturates.)

Change your habits today: Nah, would be very unpleasant. Less would mostly mean stomach ache, which this isn't worth it for me. More... nah, just no.
If I really wanted to, I could probably force myself to eat a pack of dates for about 2-3 days before having enough of them. That would probably get me about 150-200g extra sugar on each of those days. (Oof!) More refined versions of sugar don't really work for me. (Even eating a spoon of raw cane sugar isn't pleasant, I just tried. It tastes nice, has a lot of complexity, but overall it's still unpleasant and not something that I want to repeat. Plus nearly all of the appeal is in the complex aromas, not the sweetness.) With sweets, eating just 2 or 3 gummy bears is usually enough to really not want more for the next couple of days.

If I really wanted to, I could probably force myself to eat a pack of dates for about 2-3 days before having enough of them.

Actually, I tried that too now. 8 was more than enough, don't really want to eat more. (Wolfram estimates a single dried date to weigh about 16 g and contain roughly 10 g sugar.) So if that's right, this was about 80g of sugar. That's less than half of what I estimated. (Even adding the (tea)spoon of sugar from before as 1-2 extra dates doesn't make much of a difference.)

2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:57 AM

My short answer to the question in the title is "NO!!"

As you ask for anecdotes, here's mine. No food is a "superstimulus" for me in the way that Eliezer describes. Some years back, I noticed the size of cakes in cafes double. (I don't know why, but it seemed to happen in them all at about the same time.) I have responded by no longer buying them. Each one is two or three times what I would have when having coffee and a cake at home. Even the croissants are often giant-sized, and these days almond croissants seem to be made by boiling the whole thing in marzipan.

I don't put actual sugar from a bowl into or onto anything except a modest sprinkle on a bowl of berries of some sort, which happens maybe once in a couple of weeks. It takes many years to go through a bag of sugar at that rate. I do not drink soft drinks. I have never attempted to measure how much "added sugar" I consume each day, but just eyeballing the matter I expect it is far below even the "recommended" limit of 36 grams.

This is not the result of any sort of deliberate denial of my desires; on the contrary, I eat what I want when I want it. I find overeating quite unpleasant.

A diet of pasta and sugar sounds revolting, so I'm afraid I won't be conducting the experiment, hence this being a comment, not an answer.

[I] am not aware of any [study] done on the subject

Have you searched?