Sugar, contrary to popular belief, is not just a strangely addictive song by The Archies, but an ingredient in almost all of our daily consumed foods. Last week, it seemed that the scientific community rather spectacularly concluded that sugar is actually very detrimental to us. Specifically, they identified High-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, as the main additive in sugar that is threatening the health of the population. Although, on review it is very difficult to distinguish between HFCS and natural sugars because they are very chemically similar and are absorbed by the body in a near-identical manner, there has been a rise of HFCS in foods that coincides with massive increases in obesity and diabetes in America. So the question that one might ask is; “Should we stop eating sugar?”
It is believed that sugar was first grown for market in China around 800 BC where a rigorous and laborious process of extracting the sugar would eventually allow for a very wealthy yield. Up until the industrial revolution and the wave of global exploration, sugar was an extremely expensive product that only the wealthiest could own; in 1319, it is recorded that Venetian traders sold 50 tons of sugar to England for £3,000, which is equivalent to £11,000,000 today.
Sugar became notorious during the 18th and 19th century because it was the most desirable product in the world but also produced by the slave colonies in the Caribbean and South America. Unfortunately for the slaves, sugar production became a booming industry because it was provided by massive labour forces with no choice as to conditions or hours. Yet, the moral implication of sugar production was overlooked by the populations of countries like France and Great Britain because of its sheer capacity for a sweet taste, something that was sorely lacking in everyone’s palate until this point.
There have always been saccharophobes (sugar-haters) and saccharophiles (sugar-lovers), but these days it is very difficult to choose a side as sugar is contained in so many foods and drinks that many in the developed world would be as essential. Like pretty much anything that we consume, too much sugar is not going to be beneficial, a lesson we have only learnt through mistakes; Bill Bryson identifies that there were reports of those in the 18th century that “consumed it till their teeth turned black”. But this would hardly warrant a full-scale withdrawal of sugar from our daily diets. The government’s current approach, to advertise cutting-down on explicitly sugary products like fast-food and soft-drinks and swapping for the healthier option, is commendable, but limited, as sugar has cemented itself as a definite staple of our diet.
The best choice to make at the moment is to wait until conclusive scientific evidence is provided that demonstrates a clear link between the consumption of sugar and a serious medical condition. Obviously, this doesn’t mean I’m endorsing gorging yourself on sugar; I’m just saying for the time being there is no need to turn into a saccharophobic vegan. And so to sum up our relationship with sugar, I’ll take a lyric from The Archies’ song “You got me wanting you” .