You know how Adam Ruins Everything! You must have seen the guy, brutally beating misconceptions to death. Well, I just saw him kill the Fat makes you Fat theory. The video was enlightening, more so because it redirects us to the real culprit, to a grim reaper disguised as Santa Claus – sugar. I am a self-confessed sugar addict. I have been bred on Bengali Sweets, famous across the globe for their supremacy as desserts. Hell, even our savory food has generous dollops of the stuff. To think that in the 200,000 years of human history, the condiment has only existed for about 2500 years made me wonder, how the hell did people exist before sugar did? Turns out, sugar kills, and has a very interesting history, starting in our very own country. It’s not a coincidence that sugar derives its name from the Indo-word shakkar.
How India’s Sugar catalyzed Slavery
It is believed that the sugarcane plantations first evolved around 8000 B.C, in Papua New Guinea. While humans may have occasionally chewed on the stems, they were primarily used as pig fodder – no doubt in attempts to fatten the breed up.
The crop made its way to India, via Polynesian seafarers. Trust the engineers of the land to devise a way to extract crystalline sugar from the juice of the stem. Which is exactly what Indians achieved by 350AD.
Indians guarded the recipe like a national secret and started exporting the high-end, ‘sweet spice’ at marvelous profits. But, with the constant flow of travelers to the country from both the Middle-East and China, the technique of sugar production soon reached the whole of Asia. The Arabs are credited with improving the technique manyfold and then inventing little parcels of global delight. Then came the crusades in the 11th Century!
Warriors from Western European countries chanced upon this expensive “sweet salt” in the Holy Land. The Venetian, Italian, and Spanish traders managed to bring it home. But, the labor-intensive process kept the price high. That is when the Europeans first had the brilliant idea of grabbing the labor from people they enslaved in Cyprus and Valencia. Europeans also found land and free labor in the rich soil of the Caribbean. The clever use of free labor was what finally made sugar a mass-scale global condiment. So, you see, sugar didn’t have such a sweet beginning after all.
Sugar Kills: The most pervasive drug known to man
Sugar has almost no nutrition. At all! Its predecessor, honey, is rich in amino acids, minerals, and enzymes. Sugar, on the other hand, may give a quick boost of energy, but that’s about it. In fact, it does more harm than good. It unleashes dopamine and serotonin on the system, resulting in what we call sugar rush! But, that’s not where sugar darling stops. The more you take it, the less rush it generates, making your brain believe that it needs it more, a trait common to all addictive substances in the world. Under the scanner, our brain lights up the same when one shoots up sugar or heroin. So, you see, sugar kills as much as any other drug.
Sugar floods the bloodstream with insulin, which then turns off leptin, our ‘feeling full’ switch. This is why you can rake in the desserts, even after a full meal. We, Indians, often joke that we have a separate stomach for sweets.
In this simulated starvation, our body kicks into survival mode and turns all that glucose in the bloodstream into fat. Leading us to, you know, obesity!
Sugar withdrawal follows the pattern of addiction withdrawal – anxiety, lethargy, and irritability happens. So, sugar is the worst honey trap in the world. It is a potent drug, sold completely unregulated in grocery stores, that we are loading our kids and ourselves on.
Sugar vs. Women’s Health
Women innately crave sugar more than men. This is possibly part of a vicious circle where the sugar messes with the hormone cycle and the hormone amps up the sugar craving. Women also have naturally lower levels of serotonin than men, leading us to reach out to that extra bit of help from the sweet drug. While it affects both genders, sugar has a more debilitating effect on women’s health. This is what it does:
1. It promotes insulin resistance (in men and women), although men might actually be a tad more prone to the condition. But, when it does affect women, it wrecks our emotional stability, energy levels, and fertility.
2. Sugar increases estrogen levels, leading to our most common enemy today – PMS and PCOS. Almost every woman on the planet is dealing with these conditions to varying degrees today. (Also read: Living with PCOS)
3. Sugar elevates prostaglandin hormone in blood making periods more painful. Could it get any worse?
4. This one will hit us where it hurts the most – it accelerates the aging process, promoting wrinkles and skin sagging. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, sugar also causes acne breakouts. All the while, making us fat and bloated. It’s evil incarnate!
Fighting the Indian Sweet Poison
It’s harder than you think. Sugar is hidden everywhere, in almost everything we eat. The industry is large, and it doesn’t want us to find out that it is poison. Think cigarettes in the ’60s. Almost everything that you eat straight out of a packet is loaded with refined sugar. It is very hard to completely remove sugar from your life. It is easier to switch to natural sweeteners – think honey, fruits (fructose instead of glucose), and Low GI carbohydrates (the grains you hate like ragi, jowar, or bajra). Just a few things to keep in mind:
1. Even fresh fruit juices will flush your bloodstream with glucose. Eat the fruit whole, so that the fibers have the chance to slow down the sugar absorption from the stomach
2. Avoid anything that comes ready to eat in a packet or a pet jar. It’s the easiest way to cut sugout oftof your life.
3. Dump refined carbs. Limit your intake of white rice, refined flour.
India has had many a contributions that have changed the course of human history. The discovery of refined sugar is clearly one of them. No matter how significant the milestone in the history of human food, it is one that we are not immensely proud of. It is time we wake up to the horrors of refined sugar and start removing it from our diets. I write this in earnest, while munching on my nolen gurer sandesh from Kolkata. Best of luck to you though! Just remember, sugar kills, albeit slowly.