Love of Sugar – A Doomed Relationship
Where does the love of sugar come from? The quantity of sugar consumed by the average American in the late 1800s was only about 7 pounds a year. In our current society, the average citizen eats 22.7 teaspoons a day (77 pounds a year). How did we get to where we are today? What issues has it caused?
History of Love of Sugar
Sugar comes from sugar cane which originated in New Guinea over 10 000 years ago where people used to chew on the stalks to get the sweet taste. The plant eventually spread from one are to another until it reached mainland Asia around 1000 BC. Processing of sugar into a powder for medicinal purposes like headaches was a well guarded secret around 500 BC in India. Eventually by 600 it reached Persia and the Arabs learned of the love of sugar when they conquered the region and scattered the knowledge everywhere they went. Arabs are credited with creating the sugar industry and by 1500, the demand increased dramatically.
Only the nobles and richest Europeans could afford sugar as the region has entirely the wrong weather to grow it effectively. Either they found a cheaper source or developed an area with suitable climate. As the age of exploration began, colonists transported sugar cane to area like the Canary Islands and the Caribbean region with Columbus’ second trip to the New World. It quickly spread to Jamaica and Cuba as well as Brazil. By the 17th century, the quantity of sugar available made the price drop so even the poor could afford it. The spread of sugar plantations followed the slave trade as a work force. Refined sugar was sent to Europe for finished goods which were used to get more slaves from Africa for more workers and more plantations. The bloody cycle continued until slavery was banned. The love of sugar exploded between 1700 and 1900. The average eaten by Europeans went from 4 to 100 pounds a year with world production hitting over 13 million tons.
Love of Sugar Takes Its Toll
This love affair with sugar has a large affect on human health. In the early 1900s, only 5 percent of adults had high blood pressure as compared to one third of adults world wide today. The excess of sugar (fructose, glucose, and sucrose) has lead to an increase in type 2 diabetes. Only 2% of Americans had the disease in the early 1970s but in 2010 the number had jumped to 7%, a total of 21.1 million people. The science behind sugar is important to note as each of the types is not used in the same way by the body. Glucose is metabolized into glycogen or directly to energy with small amounts stored as fat. Fructose (from fruit) is very different. It is mostly broken down in the liver into fat. This results in a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure and of course Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. With the aid of government corn subsidies, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made really cheaply and is used in a lot of products including soft drinks and processed foods. HFCS is made of 55% fructose and 45% glucose.
The US daily average is 22.7 teaspoons which amounts to about 363 calories. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 150 calories for men and 100 calories for women. Consumption is double the limit allowed for a healthy diet. Moderately better choices include honey, maple syrup and molasses which contain slight traces of vitamins and minerals. They are not as common but do work quite well. Artificial sweeteners are an entirely different realm and are discussed here. Regardless of what source of sweetener you use, moderation is the key.
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