Once a scarce commodity, sugar is now cheap and easily available. As far as our health is concerned, it may have become your sweetest enemy.
We need some sugar and are programmed by evolution to eat sweet things (some of us more than others). But we only need a limited amount.
Even when we know this and know the problems that excess sugar can cause, we very often don’t know we are consuming sugar as it is often hidden in highly processed foods and drinks.
Why Do We Love Sweet Tastes?
What is it about us that we seem to love sweet tastes so much? It’s down to our evolution.
Taste is a hugely important sense, and not just for the pleasure we get from tastes. We sense tastes through the taste buds on our tongue with different parts of the tongue able to sense different tastes.
We taste sour though taste buds towards the back of the tongue and bitter at the sides. But it’s the taste buds right at the front, at the tip, that allow us to taste sweetness.
Taste allows us to identify the foods that are good for us. By this reckoning, sugar must be good for us.
And different sugars are indeed hugely important for our well-being. So our brain rewards us through a feeling of pleasure when we consume sugar.
But we need sugar in limited quantities only. Too much is very bad for us. I discuss some of these effects in this article on how sugar affects your brain. There are many more impacts.
Just as salt is essential but is poisonous in high doses, we need to get enough sugar, but not too much. However, we are very bad at identifying when we have enough sugar.
This problem arises because, for much of our history, we were somewhat starved of sweet tastes with the only common sources being honey, fruits (when available) and some vegetables that caramelize when burned.
Sweet tastes were the preserve of the lucky few. So, there was no danger of having too much of a sweet thing!
The other side of this is that we are hardwired to pursue and consume sugars when we do encounter them.
This Has Become a Problem
This was not a problem when sugar was scarce. But, humans being the resourceful animals they are, set about addressing this problem of scarcity as soon as they were able.
It is thought that sugar cane juice was first extracted in Southeast Asia around four thousand years ago. By two thousand years ago granulated sugar was being produced in India.
But it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries when sugarcane was grown in the Americas that sugar became widely available in the West, although it remained a luxury item.
When the ability to grow sugar beet in temperate climates was developed in the 19th and 20th centuries this all changed. Sugar in many forms, including many highly processed forms, rapidly became a cheap commodity ingredient.
This was a major change, but our desires did not change in line. Now that sugar is plentiful, pretty much ubiquitous, we are physiologically and psychologically ill-prepared.
We find it hard to adjust and not just follow our – mindless – instincts by consuming what we get. In this way, sugar has become your sweetest enemy.
Your Sweetest Enemy
In recent years, scientific research has drawn increasing attention to the link between sugar and obesity.
Health authorities say we have gotten fatter because we are consuming too many calories of all kinds. Many experts have singled out the role of added sugar consumption, which increased more than 30 percent between 1977 and 2010.
Therein we have the problems we are faced with. We can’t just go with the flow.
Because of this, Governments all over the world are starting to crack down on our consumption of sugar. They are passing taxes on sugary drinks and snacks, banning them from schools, and more treatment programs are becoming open to people who believe they are addicted to sugar.
These interventions seem to be having some success in terms of reducing the amount of sugar people consume, although they remain at an early stage.
But what is the truth? Is sugar your enemy? How much do you need? And can you be trusted to act in your own best interests?
To shed some light on these issues, we have compiled a report entitled ‘Sugar: Your Sweetest Enemy’. This report aims to give you the information you need to answer these questions for yourself. Click here to download the report.