Sugar Science: Unpacking the Psychology of Why We Can't Resist Desserts

Sugar Science: Unpacking the Psychology of Why We Can't Resist Desserts

Decoding our cravings

Salutations, sweet thang! Today, we're going to uncover the juicy secrets of why we just can't resist that mouthwatering slice of cake or that rich, creamy ice cream. We all know that desserts taste heavenly, but have you ever wondered why they make us feel so darn good? Join us on this sugary journey as we explore the fascinating psychological reasons behind our insatiable cravings for all things sweet. By the end of this post, you'll have a newfound appreciation for that slice of pie. So, grab a fork, put on your stretchy pants, and let's dig into the science of dessert!

Desserts are a happy drug!

What's the magic behind this blissful sensation? It all comes down to our brain chemistry. You see, when we indulge in something sugary, our brain floods our system with feel-good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. These natural "happy pills" work their magic, unleashing a wave of pleasure and satisfaction that leaves us craving more of that sweet, sweet goodness. No wonder we turn to desserts for a little pick-me-up after a long day at the office or a heart-wrenching breakup.

Accomplishments - no matter how ‘small’

Desserts are the cherry on top of life's endeavours - often seen as a reward for good behaviour or hard work. Getting candy from parents as a child for being good or doing chores, to getting your adult-self cakes for meeting goals, desserts are often seen as a well-deserved pleasure for a job well done. Even diets have cheat days. They're a standing ovation for your taste buds, a round of applause for your efforts.

Say you’ve won the nobel prize, I’ll likely shower you with chocolates and cakes, not Bouillabaisse or Beef Wellington even though they’re *chef kiss*!


Desserts are more than just a fleeting mood booster. They have the power to conjure up a wave of positive memories and emotions too. Think about it - some of life's most cherished moments involve sweet treats, like birthday cakes or holiday pies. When we dig into these delectable delights, it can fly us back in time, evoking feelings of nostalgia and comfort that fill us with happiness and satisfaction.

Remember that Ratatouille scene where Anton Ego was suddenly transported back to his mother’s kitchen after even the slightest bite of Ratatouille? Warms the heart just like a warm slice of apple pie - bringing back fond memories of spending time with family and feeling loved. It creates a positive feedback loop that makes us look forward to the dessert.

Why we often enjoy desserts after a meal?

1. Blood sugar levels
Blood sugar is the main source of energy for our bodies, which we get from the food we eat, especially foods high in carbohydrates. After a meal, blood sugar levels can rise and prompt the release of insulin to bring them back down. However, sometimes blood sugar levels drop too low, triggering cravings for something sweet to help bring them back up.

2. Culturally Normalised Habit
Desserts have been a part of time-honoured practices and customs for centuries! In many cultures, dessert is considered a traditional part of a meal, and the social expectation of having something sweet after a meal can contribute to our desire for it. Examples include:

  • Religious ceremonies
    In the Jewish holiday of Passover, unleavened cakes and sweet wine are served during the Seder meal.
  • Holidays and festivities
    Pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, Yule cakes for Christmas, Chocolates for Valentines!
  • Social etiquette
    In formal dining settings, it is customary to serve dessert as the final course of a meal; In French tradition, to serve it after every meal, even the simplest ‘everyday meal’.

  • Culinary heritage
    Italian tiramisu to Turkish baklava, they’re often considered a symbol of cultural identity and pride.

    The habit of eating dessert after a meal leads to brain expectations, which trigger cravings for something sweet at the end of a meal. The positive feelings from eating desserts reinforces the behaviour. 

3. Evolutionary factors
Our ancestors evolved to crave foods that were high in sugar and fat because they provided a quick source of energy in a world where food was scarce. Desserts, which are often high in sugar and fat, are particularly appealing to us and can help us feel full after a meal. This evolutionary history has shaped our preferences and cravings for high-energy foods like desserts.

The sugary reality

Alright folks, it's time to face the sweet truth: we love desserts, and they love us back. Like time capsules for our taste buds that carry us back home, they're more than just desserts - they're a mood; And they can serve as a symbol of the joy that comes with a life well-lived. But we can’t sugarcoat it (pun intended) at the same time - there's a darker side to our love affair with sugar. By understanding the psychology behind our passionate entanglement with desserts, we can enjoy them in moderation and with mindfulness, savouring every delicious bite while also taking care of our bodies and well-being.

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