The history of sugar is indubitably fascinating. We do not know what civilization was the first to extract sugar from sugarcane, but it was India, around 350 AD, that invented the manufacture of crystallized sugar granules. Then Indian sailors carried sugar by various trade routes. Worldwide, throughout the middle ages, sugar was considered a “fine spice” and was very expensive. It is only from 1500 AD onwards that it became sold as a bulk commodity and became much cheaper. But, now in 2016, sugar is possibly the most controversial food substance – point us toward a more controversial one and we’ll eat our collective hats. It is also, predictably, at its cheapest and most ubiquitous. Did the ancient Indians unwittingly open a Pandora’s box?
The calories people have eaten via sugar have been accelerated through centuries. For most of the human history, consumption of sugar, in refined form, was virtually zero. By 1700 average consumption worldwide was 4 pounds (1.8 kg) per annum. By 1800 it was 18 pounds (8 kg) and by 1900 it was 60 pounds (27 kg). Currently, it stands at 100 pounds (45 kg). These numbers are mostly from the developed world. In India, the number is around 20 kg, still a very large chunk of calories. It amounts to over 200 calories per day. The medically recommended amount is no more than 100 calories. Let’s discuss why medical professionals feel so strongly about the effects of this rapid increase in sugar consumption.
Sugar May Be Addictive
Sugar is not the only food substance that is allegedly addictive, but it is the one that, if guilty, makes the most impact. Scientists aren’t sure if people can become physically dependent on sugar, although some animal studies suggest that such a thing is possible. Scientists observed the same kinds of changes in brain dopamine, in these animals given intermittent access to sugar, as in drug addicts. Also, people with constant sugar cravings do exhibit one symptom of dependence-continued-usage despite knowing of the bad consequences or having to give up certain activities.
Sugar May Worsen Cholesterol
Researchers have found a link between sugar and unhealthy levels of blood fats. There’s an association between added sugar intake and what we call dyslipidemia — higher triglycerides and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), people who ate the largest amounts of added sugar had the highest blood triglyceride levels and the lowest HDL (good) cholesterol levels. That study also showed that eating lots of sugar more than tripled the odds of having low HDL cholesterol levels, a strong risk factor for heart disease. In contrast, people who ate the least sugar had the lowest triglyceride levels and highest HDL levels, a protective factor against heart disease.
Sugar (Indirectly and Partly) Causes Diabetes
Eating sugar per se does not cause diabetes. But large, epidemiological research has shown an association between intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes.
The real culprit may be obesity. It may be because the sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with higher BMIs or associated with overweight and obesity, which we know is a risk factor for diabetes.
Sugar Is Definitely Bad for Teeth
Sugar is bad for the teeth because it provides easily digestible energy for the bad bacteria in the mouth. Tooth decay is caused by these bacteria that feed on sugars from food and drinks. That bacteria — called plaque — can stick to your teeth, producing acids that eat through the enamel on your teeth.
Sugar Is Definitely Bad for Skin
When you ingest sugar or high-glycemic foods that rapidly convert to sugar — whether it’s in the form of an apple or a piece of cake — your body breaks down these carbohydrates into glucose, which raises your insulin levels. Simple carbohydrates, like refined sugar, white bread, and soda, cause your insulin levels to spike, which leads to a burst of inflammation throughout the body.
Inflammation produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, resulting in sagging skin and wrinkles.
So while it is hard to sift through all the evidence, it is a fact that sugar has strong correlations with a lot of modern health issues. Avoid it completely or be careful with your sugar portions. Be aware of how much you’re eating.