Friday, January 7, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

Last month scientists announced that they believe they have found a link between sugar and aggression in humans. One of the co-authors of the study, Ohio State University Professor Brad Bushman, said that "avoiding aggressive impulses takes self-control, and self-control takes a lot of energy. Glucose provides that energy in the brain."

He and his colleagues have also shown that people who have trouble metabolizing glucose (including those with diabetes) show more aggression and are less willing to forgive others. This may become a societal problem, as the number of people who have diabetes in the United States has more than tripled over the past thirty years. Using 2001 data they found that in each state, diabetes rates were linked to violent crime rates. States with higher diabetes rates also tended to have more murders, assaults, rapes and robberies.

I think women have always known this.When welcoming a stranger into their home, what's the first thing a "good hostess" does? Offers the visitor something to eat and something to drink. We call it "being polite," and it's not unique to American culture. But what if it's more than that? What if this is a way of disarming the stranger? Hand him a plateful of cookies and he won't attack you?

Or take a broader view. Our country is obsessed by sugary foods (hence the growing diabetes problem), and we even sneak sugar into the most unlikely places. Read the label on any processed food product you pull off your pantry shelf, and odds are good that you'll find some form of corn syrup–another form of sugar. I won't get into the Michael Pollan lecture on how corn syrup is the linear result of excess armaments left over from World War Two.

I did a highly scientific study of my own food supplies (i.e., I opened the pantry door and grabbed some cans and jars). Did you know there is sugar in bread crumbs and mayonnaise? In my beef bouillon cubes, sugar was the second ingredient. Where's the beef? And forget about all those cereals and juices–they're loaded. Suffice it to say that we Americans love our sugar.

There are a lot of current mystery writers who write about food, and I'd hazard a guess that most of these focus on sweet foods. Off the top of my head I can think of writers whose protagonists are bakers (pastry and cupcake), chocolate makers, even a bee keeper. Step back a bit and you get a few healthier themes: I write about apples, and I know others who focus on blueberries or even a whole farmers market. Two of the current doyennes of traditional mysteries, Katherine Hall Page and Diane Mott Davidson, write about caterers, and Davidson's protagonist makes some dynamite desserts (I know–I've tried the recipes!).

When you start thinking about this, you may begin to recognize patterns. Say you're reading dark procedurals or tense suspense–what do the characters eat? Do they remember to eat at all? Or do they grab a cup of black coffee and a stale bagel on the way out the door? Or they duck into a grubby diner and eat fatty foods. In contrast, in women's fiction many characters bare their souls over cups of sweet tea and pastries. Maybe that's why all the classic English mysteries are so calm and rational: all the characters are wallowing in tea and crumpets (with dollops of strawberry jam).

I for one say we seize this discovery of the positive impact of sugar and take advantage of it. If world powers are sitting down to negotiate critical treaties involving millions of lives–give them cookies! If someone's finger is hovering over that red button that can blow up the world, hand them a cup of sweet tea. If enemies have invaded your land, open the door and invite them in for cake. It can't hurt, can it?

And I'll be happy to forgive you for anything as long as you'll share your brownies with me.


Sandra Parshall said...

Oh dear. All I need is a reason to eat more sugar! Very interesting findings.

Laineshots said...

This is one of those things we've always known on an instinctive level, isn't it? It would explain why, even after decades of hearing how bad sugar is for us, it is still an essential and almost unavoidable part of our society. As my mom always said, "You catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar." Sweeten 'em up!

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite double-chocolate-cherry-oatmeal cookie recipes I got from a Diana Mott Davidson book years ago!

Sandra Parshall said...

I've read many times that cats can't taste sweetness, but that news hasn't reached our cat Gabriel, who goes after anything that's sweet. Our cat Simon loved cake. Many animals love sweet foods. Giant pandas in zoos are given sugar cane as a special treat.

Julia Buckley said...


In my house growing up, food was love, and often that was sugary love. When I got the lead in the school play, my mom made me a cake. :)

I still have this tendency with my own children, so we are all plump. I won't say we have to aggressive tendencies, but we're a fairly peace-loving family. Is it the sugar? I don't know, but I do know that I have to tone it down or I'll be in the diabetes group (per my doctor).

shirley said...

Cookies to the Kremlin! Cupcakes for Congress. We may achieve world peace yet 8^)

lil Gluckstern said...

I am a diabetic, and I can't make those double crumble raspberry chocolate sweetcakes, whatever, because I might just eat them. Maybe diabetics are just mad because they can't eat, you know, great tasting cookies. Between Diane Mott Davidson, and Joanne Fluke, I have probably drooled me a river. Seriously, there may be something physiological, but there are serious connections between depression and diabetes, and it is hard to know what is causal. I'm sure there is a link between anger and diabetes, but it is hard to know which came first. I can eat apples, and blueberries-a little at a time.

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