Sugar: the spice that changed history–part four

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor; I don’t even play one on TV. I am not qualified to give advice about nutrition or other medical matters. The following is historical information for educational purposes only.

For most of history, nutritional problems have been caused by deficiencies, not by excess. The number of wealthy people capable of overeating has always been far smaller than the number of people facing starvation or malnutrition.

The human body is designed to crave certain necessary foods that are rare in nature. The body needs a certain amount of salt to maintain good health–a completely salt-free diet can lead to difficulty thinking, nausea, muscular cramps or weakness, fainting, and even seizures and coma. Carbohydrates are necessary to fuel the cells of the body. Therefore, most people crave salty foods and sweet foods. In a land in which most sugars are contained in fruits and honey, overdosing on sugar is difficult to accomplish.

The food industry has changed all that. Now sweet foods and salty foods are easily obtainable for meals and for snacks. Makers of our food have no nefarious schemes to damage people’s health. They merely want to make money by giving people what we want. Since we want sweet food, many companies exist for the sole purpose of making sweet food and selling it to us. Control over what we eat belongs to each of us (and, in the case of children, to their parents). Expecting corporations (or the government) to exercise that control on our behalf is just silly.

After the middle of the twentieth century, doctors and nutritionists began recommending a decrease of the consumption of sugar. The only disease directly caused by sugar is tooth decay–even diabetes is a fault in the body making it unable to process sugar; diabetes is not caused by sugar. Yet people who regularly consume more calories than they burn are prone to a number of health problems, and reducing the use of sugar is one of the easiest ways to reduce calories in a person’s diet.

Corporate inventors created several artificial sweeteners during the twentieth century. These sweeteners have no calories, but they still make food taste sweeter. No artificial sweetener is made available to the public before it is thoroughly tested to ensure that it will not cause health problems. However, replacing sugar with a calorie-free chemical does not, by itself, mitigate all the problems that are blamed on sugar.

Recent studies demonstrate that sugar is an addictive drug. It stimulates the same portion of the brain that is stimulated by addictive behavior–gambling, for example. Sugar quickly enters the bloodstream when it is consumed, giving the brain a happy stimulation; four hours later, the brain wants another jolt. People with personalities prone to addiction find sugar far easier to acquire than controlled or banned drugs. Artificial sweeteners stimulate the brain the same way sugar does, producing the same results.

Given the power sugar has over individuals, the power it has exercised over politics and government is unsurprising. Sugar motivated explorers and investors five hundred years ago. Sugar persuaded people to buy and sell other people as slaves. Sugar remains heavily involved in the world economy today. Sweet foods and beverages are constantly advertised on every form of media. Sugary products are packaged in bright, attractive boxes and bags. What would television be like without Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Trix rabbit, or the Lucky Charms leprechaun? What if Santa Claus did not always wear a red suit (inspired by Coca Cola)? For that matter, who would teach the world to sing in perfect harmony?

Like it or hate it, sugar is too much with us. Late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! J.

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