How much sugar did the average person consume in the 1700s vs. today? And what does our increased sugar consumption do to our oral, mental and physical health? The answers aren’t pretty – but the reality is that added sugars are found in the majority of our foods and drinks today, and our sugar habits are causing serious and sometimes life-threatening health issues. Understanding the reasons and impacts of our consumption choices can help us make better decisions to benefit our health and quality of life.
Excessive sugar consumption is linked to serious and wide-ranging health issues, encompassing oral health, whole body health, and mental health. These health issues include: dental caries (cavities), gum disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, obesity, cancer, depression and anxiety.
The reasons why excess sugar is so bad for us are also wide-ranging and varied, but can perhaps be oversimplified to the rise of blood
sugar and blood pressure to unhealthy levels as well as chronic inflammation – dangerous conditions which can negatively affect literally every single organ and function of our bodies.
But if too much sugar is so bad for our health, why do we consume so much of it? Simply, our bodies and brains are hardwired to like sugar and sweets. Eating sugar provides our bodies with an instant spike in energy, and sends a huge surge of dopamine to the brain. It can be quite easy to become addicted to that near instant reward and gratification that sugar provides. But those quick spikes and empty calories result in a subsequent dip or even crash in energy and mood-elevating hormones, and can cause us to over-eat and crave more calories and sweetness. Interestingly, our bodies and brains expect the same results from anything sweet, including artificial sweeteners – which is why diet foods and drinks are often misnomers and can actually contribute to weight gain and health issues.
The American Heart Association recommends that most adult women consume no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) sugar per day, and most adult men consume no more than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) sugar per day.
What is our actual consumption? The average American adult consumes about 68 grams (17 teaspoons) of sugar per day – which is about 200-300% of the recommended amount. Most Americans today consume an astonishing 4500% more sugar per year than the average person did in the 1700s.
The manufacturing of cane sugar was first invented over 2000 years ago, so why has our sugar consumption increased so drastically over the past few centuries?
There are several reasons, beginning with a series of booms in the sugar industry from the 16th through 20th centuries. Each episode in sugar’s manufacturing history throughout this period saw drastic increases in sugar production, manufacturing and refinement – and subsequent drastic increases in sugar consumption.
Mass production of processed foods and refined grains also began around the early 1900s, which increased the shelf life and palatability of foods, at the cost of lost nutrients and the creation of additional sugars in the body once metabolized.
And in the 1970s, the rise of added sugars in packaged and prepared foods began to take off, beginning with infant formula. Sugar goes by at least 61 different names on ingredient lists today, and is added to 74% of all packaged foods. Some names for sugar are obvious, while many are deviously hidden.
A non-exhaustive list of names for sugar: glucose, sucrose, lactose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, dextrin, ethyl maltol, crystalline fructose, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn sweetener, honey, molasses, treacle, syrup, maple syrup, malt syrup, rice syrup, carob syrup, sorghum syrup, evaporated cane juice, cane crystals, cane sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, coconut sugar, invert sugar, fruit juice concentrates, barley malt, agave nectar, caramel, muscovado, panocha.
Most consumers are unaware that their favorite foods & drinks contain much more sugar than they think. For example, a single 12 oz. can of soda contains about 39 grams (almost 10 teaspoons) of sugar, which is already over the recommended daily amount! Take the time to check the ingredient lists and nutrition labels the next time you go grocery shopping, and try to choose healthier options. Neglecting to do so may be more convenient and may result in a lower grocery bill, but the
truth is that we pay for it with our health and health maintenance in the long run.
The negative effects of excessive sugar consumption are numerous, but so are the benefits of reducing your sugar intake. Here are a few!