Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Why do we love sugar? Some of our love for sugar is learned, and some of our preference depends on exposure during developmental years. However, humans also have a deeply set evolutionary reason to favor the tastes of foods with sugar, salt, and fat. The reason is survival. Our bodies would not function long without the much needed resource of calories, energy, and salt balance to power our bodies. In our primal state, it was very important for us to consume foods with enough energy to keep us alive. So when did sugar become a problem?
Agricultural and chemical advances paved a way for sugar to become a major part of general human consumption beginning in the mid-17th century. It only got worse as further developments occurred. Our modern diet today frequently includes 25% of our calories from added sugar alone! Were our bodies designed to process so much refined sugar? The sugar industry would like us to think there is nothing wrong with added sugar. Recent reports revealed that in the 1960s, the leading sugar industry poured lots of money into research, “proving” fats and cholesterol were the main issue with our modern health problems, not sugar. Most consumers were unaware of the refined sugar being added ubiquitously to our diets. It was only a matter of time before our modern health problems from heavy sugar loading became evident.
Most health experts agree that sugar in moderation is not a problem. But what happens when we consume too much? Added sugar adds calories without any nutritive benefit. We know the effect of sugar on the teeth. The fructose-rich calories we get from added sugar can also burden our liver, promoting conversion of excess sugar into fatty tissue. In our metabolism, our cells can become less responsive to insulin, promoting diabetes or metabolic syndrome. This insulin resistance may be one of the reasons those with high sugar diets have a higher risk of developing cancer. Cholesterol levels have been linked with sugar consumption, along with heart disease and obesity. Sugar affects the brain in a way that may lead to addiction and withdrawal. In addition, sugars promote inflammation and pain. There are many reasons to reign in and take control of your sugar consumption. It all begins by becoming aware. Thankfully, next year food labels will be required to show how many “added sugars” are in a product, underneath the “total sugars” line that’s already there. The current recommendation for added sugar intake is no more than 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men. This Halloween, you can give your health a boost by limiting sugar consumption and replacing some of that Halloween candy with other naturally sweet and wholesome foods.
Nathan J. Pettit DMD, MSD