How did the ‘sugar culture’ get started?

Eat Sweet to Survive

Palm TreeLong ago, when we were hunting and gathering, sweet treats such as wild berries, yams (sweet potato), coconuts and honey were a rare delight that took skill and physical work to acquire.

Scarcity, physical effort and the associated dietary fibre were factors that kept consumption of energy dense sweet foods within safe limits for humans for thousands of years.

Primal programing compelled early man to make the extra effort to seek out sweet foods because, in evolutionary terms, sweetness equalled survival. How did that work?

Sucrose (sugar) is a carbohydrate. All carbohydrate foods fuel a biochemical mechanism that allows our body to store excess energy. Sweeter foods accelerate this process.

Our ancestors worked out that consuming sweet foods when they were plentiful was not only pleasurable, it also caused a rapid accumulation of extra body fat which helped them survive when food was scarce.

So, unfortunately, the impulse to seek out and enjoy sweet foods is buried deep in our DNA, and only a fully conscious, knowledge-based approach to diet can override it.

A Sour History

Around A.D. 500, India discovered how to crystallise the liquid from sugar cane. They called it kandar, which is the origin of the word candy. Back then they maintained a healthy respect for this powerful substance, using it sparingly as a medicine or special gift.

Crystalline sugar was easy to transport and it caught on quickly around the world. The insatiable lust for sugar sparked the beginning of the slave trade in 1505, which saw around 12 million African people forcibly transported across the Atlantic, under horrific conditions, to work in sugar production.

In the 1950s, the demand for sugar went into overdrive when food manufacturers figured out how to turn our hard-wired vulnerability into profits.

Today, sugar is still a very valuable commodity; however, its stocks are dropping due to growing awareness of the harmful side effects of over-consumption, and the introduction of tighter food product regulations and taxes.

Crystal Clear Ahead

The evolutionary function of naturally sweet food in the human diet has been devalued and forgotten.

Uncontrolled distribution of crystalline sugar has resulted in hundreds of years of displacement, slavery and bloody turf wars; culminating in a worldwide epidemic of preventable lifestyle-related disease.

Added sugar is everywhere. It is embedded in almost all our social rituals with sugary treats like birthday cake, Christmas pudding, Valentine’s Day chocolates and Easter eggs. It hides in the majority of processed foods and serves us as a reward, a boredom buster and a source of comfort.

Deconstruction of the ‘sugar culture’ will be painstaking and complex, but we owe it to our children and ourselves to start the process immediately.

The evolutionary table has turned. Now, less sweet equals survival.

Download the ‘Sweet Science’ experiment and work through it with your child to demonstrate how easily sugar can be hidden in food and drinks.

Refer to Body Basics Sugar: Biochemistry 101 and Paddock to Plate ‘Cool Coconuts’ and ‘Happy Honey’