Sugar hunting is natural for man. In every human being there are even certain hormones (for example neuropeptide Y, or NPY) able to specifically stimulate the search for sweet food, as a reminder of when man used to live in the Palaeolithic age (around 1 million of years ago), with very limited chances of eating sugary substances (such as fruit or honeycomb).
Today, times have changed: sugar availability has increased and its use is even studied by food companies, which fill their products with sugar and salt to increase their palatability and push customers to buy.
Indeed, sweet aliments have been sadly shown to induce addiction, not differently from a drug or a narcotic.
Fortunately, a long time has passed from the time when sugar was advertised as the best remedy to help kids studying; in general, something has changed but the tight pressure towards “food-sweetening” and the use of substances sweetened by means of the common sucrose, fructose or artificial sweeteners, still leads to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.
Moreover, it is sufficient to seat in front of the television for only half hour to realise that most of the adverts introduces sweet food with positive values. Sugar is not presented anymore as itself, as it used to happen a while ago, but it is disguised into the shoes of all today’s fashionable pies, snacks and so on.
A group of American researchers from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, and the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, did finally take into account not only the reality that someone, who takes more sugar in than others, has the chance to fall ill, but it also defined the mortality risk rate for a “sweet-lover” (in other words, someone that receives from sugar 25% or more of the total caloric daily intake) compared to someone that eats a more balanced sugar amount (up to 10% of the total introduced calories).
The results of this study, published on the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, confirmed that more than 70% of the whole US population chooses to get 10% or more of the total caloric daily intake from sugar and sugar-based aliments. Incredibly, more than 10% of the population receives from sugar an amount of calories starting from 25% of the total daily intake but that reaches much higher levels at times (Yang Q et al, JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Feb 3. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563. [Epub ahead of print]).
Whoever receives between 10% and 25% of the daily caloric intake from sugar is thought to have a relative risk (also known as Hazard ratio) of 1.30, while whoever matches or overtakes the 25% threshold presents a relative risk of 2.75. If we translate the jargon in clearer terms, what the study showed is that the second profile of consumers (those going beyond 25%) has been living, for the last 22 years (i.e. the duration of the study), with a probability to die of cardiovascular conditions (such as stroke or heart attack) three times higher than the first profile of consumers (those eating only 10% of calories in the form of sugar).
It is worth noticing that this work did not include in the comparison those subjects eating very little or no sugar: in that case, the contrast with “sweet-lovers” would have been much heavier.
This study raises great concerns, primarily since people, who receive around 10% of their daily calories from sugar, are considered normal: these are people that follow TV adverts, eat biscuits and brioches, jam and ice-cream, add sugar to their coffee and tea and use soft drinks. In other words, such behaviour is considered “normal” even though it is characterised by huge amounts of sugary substances in the daily diet.
Also, we should remember that this study only refers to the mortality caused by cardiovascular conditions, without considering other types of pathology, such as cancer or osteoporosis, upon which there is some reasoning that should be done.
Therefore, we have tragic epidemiologic evidence in front of our eyes and we powerlessly watch all these relentless adverts, which recommend, even to young subjects, such dietary examples as full of positive values, even though they should not be followed at all.
All along we have been flagging the damages caused by useless sweetening processes, while supporting the role of sweet products as a genuine part of social events and celebrations, which should however be occasional during the week. In our practice, this is one of our first and main objectives, which we try to achieve by suggesting certain nutritional courses that should reduce the hunt for sugar, as part of specific therapeutic programs.
Certainly, we are not going on a crusade against sugar, but instead against its concealed and unaware use (to understand what we mean, it is sufficient to read the label of the most common breakfast cereals…) and against the absolutely unnecessary sweetening habit.
The relevant point is that almost no-one (among politicians, managers and health inspectors) is taking action towards the support offered to the production and trading of this type of products. We believe that everyone has the right to “hurt himself/herself”, if he/she wants to, but the same social commitment produced against smoking should shift to sugar, by supporting the ban against all those adverts that interfere mainly with kids’ education. Unfortunately, all this is not happening and it does not look like it will happen for a long time.
In any case, we should recognize the weight-gaining pathogenic power of sugar, when used wrongly; in addition, today we should start counting all the homicides carried on by the sweet, white powder, and try to generate more bitter considerations around its side effects and the need for knowledge, all aspects that should be much more diffused.