We are now experiencing an obesity pandemic linked to sugar, even though humans evolved on a diet containing very little sugar.
Latest data shows that sugarcane is the world’s third most valuable crop following cereal and rice, and takes up 26,942,686 hectares of land around the globe. Apart from commercial profits, its main output is a world public health crisis, which has been in the making for centuries.
The obesity epidemic – including related diseases such as dementia, cancer, diabetes and heart diseases – has escalated across every country where sugar-based carbohydrates have come to control the food economy.
We humans evolved on a diet that consisted of very little sugar and practically no refined carbohydrate. It is more likely that sugar entered into our diets by mistake. Sugarcane was probably primarily used to fatten pigs, and humans may have chewed on the crop now and again.
Evidence from plant DNA suggests that sugarcane came from South East Asia. Sugarcane growing expanded around the Indian and Eastern Pacific oceans approximately 3,500 years ago, carried by Polynesian and Austronesian seafarers.
About 2,500 years ago, the first chemically refined sugar showed up in India. From India, the skill spread east to China, and west towards Persia, and reached the Mediterranean in the 13th century. The Atlantic island of Madeira was the first place to cultivate sugarcane solely for large-scale refinement and trade in the late 15th century.
Once Brazilian sugarcane was brought to the Caribbean, roughly before 1647, it resulted in the growth of the industry which now feeds the sugar obsession of Western Europe.
The stories of sugar and tobacco and closely aligned in many ways. At first, both products were produced through slave labour and were initially viewed to be good for your health. Furthermore, both have ancient origins, and it was their rapid, mass consumption beginning in the 17th century onwards that resulted in the health risks we link with them today.
Although tobacco is widely known to be addictive, sugar can also fuel behavioural responses that are identical to addiction.
However, in the 21st century, the hold of sugar is stronger than comparable curses like alcohol and tobacco. Sugar is not only universal, it is possibly responsible for about 20% of the calories in modern diets – but also key to the globe’s economy and cultural heritage.