The last time you visited your local small supermarket a number of things probably struck you. Firstly, the bright lighting, cool temperature and lack of windows were highly conducive to making you spend time in the store. Secondly, the volume and sheer choice of colorful, appealing and recognizable products were arranged to overwhelm you. And if you were observant or were thinking about your health, then you might have noticed that the products had one thing in common: they were overloaded with sugar.
Food manufacturers exploit the addictive effects of sugar and add as much sugar as they can to every type of food. Jaffa Cakes or Jammie Dodgers are staple sugary snacks, and a single biscuit provides over 6g of sugar. Far from being luxuries, many people eat several of these a day – and they could hardly imagine eating anything else. Investigating the amount of sugar in oranges also reveals a worrying trend: just as supermarkets only select perfect-looking fruits, the amount of sugar in fruit has been increased to supply the demands of supermarkets.
Consumers prefer sugary fruits, so farmers don’t cultivate more savoury varieties. This increase in sugar can be easily charted: for example, in 1978, Kellogg’s Special K had 9.6g of sugar per 100g, but this has now nearly doubled to 17g. The most well-known offender, a single can of Coca-Cola, contains 39g of sugar, a huge percentage of the roughly 90g ‘Recommended Daily Allowance’. Even 90g of sugar seems like a huge amount to be consuming in one day, considering our not-so-distant ancestors would hardly have eaten any sugar and certainly not the refined and calorie-packed sugar that is widely popular today. Some experts say that we don’t require sugar at all.
In 1998 Dr DesMaisons published her famous book Potatoes Not Prozac which shows how sugar acts like an analgesic drug. In fact, there has been a rising demand for sugar since the 18th century when the British working class took sugar to dull the pains of the Industrial Revolution. The slaves cutting the sugar cane lived in even worse conditions. Up to today there is widespread poor treatment of sugar plantation workers, such as those in the Dominican Republic.
There are connections between sugar and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, teeth issues and cardiovascular disease. Short terms effects include tiredness and a weaker immune system once the superficial “sugar high” has died down. Most people seem to know of the problems of sugar, but they still drink added sugar fruit juice, eat desserts after every meal and have the occasional biscuit or carbonated drink. This all adds up to a terrifyingly unchecked amount of daily sugar. Since sugar is dirt cheap, the epidemic will never go away by itself. Sugar has pervaded every level of society and officials have as yet done little to drive away what most people will admit is no more than a guilty habit.
Cigarettes used to be ubiquitous in Western society. Political campaigns in the USA were heavily sponsored by tobacco makers and their adverts appeared frequently on television. The 1960s heralded many scientific discoveries that would lead to the government’s continuing onslaught against smoking. Although sugar is probably not as harmful as tobacco (although an article in the British Medical Journal in 2005 says sugar is at least as harmful or worse), soon there must be a backlash against the exponentially growing “sugar culture” in Western society and much of the rest of the world.