In a fascinating National Geographic feature appearing this month, writer Rich Cohen provides a look at just how sugar grew from crop to luxury spice to dietary staple. It’s an interesting read.
Cohen profiles how, in our early history, sugar’s popularity rose as empires expanded. As our exposure to sugar increased, the demand for access fueled European expansion as national leaders sought new territories possessing cane-friendly climates. In a sense, as humanity’s exposure to sugar grew, so did our appetite for the sweet stuff.
“Sugar was the oil of its day. The more you tasted, the more you wanted. In 1700 the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds a year. In 1800 the common man ate 18 pounds of sugar. In 1870 that same sweet-toothed bloke was eating 47 pounds annually. Was he satisfied? Of course not! By 1900 he was up to 100 pounds a year. In that span of 30 years, world production of cane and beet sugar exploded from 2.8 million tons a year to 13 million plus. Today the average American consumes 77 pounds of added sugar annually, or more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.”
From there, Cohen outlines how the body perceives sugar and why as our intake creeps upward, so does the danger to our body. He points out what many simply might not know: your body metabolizes glucose and fructose differently. And sadly, fructose is what gives table sugar (and most of your favorite snacks) their sweetness.