Most people love something sweet. Just the thought of a bar of chocolate or a slice of cake can send the happy hormones rushing through you that generate a craving. This creates a sugar high and once you come down from this high then you crave some more making it an addictive drug.
Eating sweet things may be commonplace today but for our ancestors it was an expensive luxury. Fruit was only in season for a short period of time and honey was protected by the bees. This all changed once we started exploring the world. Christopher Columbus bought sugar cane back to the New World in 1493 and by the 17th century sugarcane plantations were well developed in the West Indies and South America. Add to this the development in manufacturing which led to the development of high fructose corn oil in the US in the 60’s and sugar became a cheap and commonplace ingredient which manufacturers soon realised made food more appealing, even our savoury foods. Smoked salmon, sausages, crisps, steak pie, bread, yoghurt, baked beans and off course those 7 teaspoons in a can of fizzy drink.
As consumers things got worse for us as the 70s when the rise in coronary heart disease was blamed on the high level of fats in people’s diets. The food industry jumped on the band-wagon encouraging the public to buy ‘low fat’ healthy products and save time by heating up processed ‘TV dinners’. Unfortunately, stripping the fat out of food made it very bland so manufacturers added sugar to give it taste so consumers had no choice and no knowledge that they were eating so much sugar. To confuse matters sugar came in all sorts of guises: fructose, glucose, maple syrup, treacle, molasses, corn syrup and honey to name a few. At its height it was estimated that we unknowingly were eating 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.
In 1972, John Yudkin, a British Professor of nutrition published a book ‘Pure, white and deadly’ citing that it was sugar that was causing the increase in heart disease and warned that the long term result of eating so much sugar would have a detrimental effect on our health and would lead in an increase in coronary thrombosis, obesity, diabetes and liver disease.
The Food and Sugar industry reacted in horror and did everything they could to discredit him and protect their profits. The British Sugar Bureau cited his work as ‘Science Fiction’ and scientists claimed that describing his evidence as theoretical and flimsy.
Sadly, this was the beginning of the end of his career and he was ‘uninvited’ to international conferences and any papers he wrote on the use of sugar were never published.
He said of his experience:
“Can you wonder that one sometimes becomes quite despondent about whether it is worthwhile trying to do scientific research in matters of health? The results may be of great importance in helping people avoid disease, but then you find that they are being misled by propaganda designed to support commercial interests in a way you though only existed in bad B films”
Other scientists who agreed with his findings were too intimidated to publish any negative conclusions about sugar and cases of diabetes, obesity and heart disease continued to rise. There are now 4.7 million people in the UK with diabetes and someone is diagnosed with the disease every 2 minutes.
In 2009 Robert Lustig gave a lecture called “Sugar: the bitter truth” https://youtu.be/dBnniua6-oM and slowly people listened to the message and since then there has been changes made in the food industry, some of it because of the introduction of sugar tax. Experts have calculated that in sugar is reduced in process foods by20-30% over the next three years to five years it would be enough to halt the obesity diet. Surprisingly the amount of sugar we buy has reduced but the amount that we actually eat has risen because of the hidden sugars in food.
It is now becoming clearer that sugar does nothing for our health and well-being. From a young age I was told that sugar is ‘empty calories’ that gives no nutritional value so how has this increasing intake of sugar affected our health?
In simple terms, it is believed by some scientists that fructose tricks our brain into thinking we are not full, so we overeat, and excess fructose cannot be converted to energy so it is stored by the liver as fat. That encourages insulin resistance, where the effect of insulin is reduced and the blood carries excessive amounts of sugar as it is no longer being taken by the cells to convert into energy which leads to diabetes and heart disease.
What can we do to eat less sugar ?
Being addicted to sugar is like being addicted to any other drug. If you have a high intake of sugar you may get withdrawal symptoms like bad mood swings, headaches, lack of sleep but in the long term you will be healthier for it and it will help to avoid the hard hitting diseases caused by too much sugar in your blood.