Sugar is said to be the most common drug in the world. We find it in sweets, we add it to coffee or tea, it plays an important role on holidays such as Christmas, and we even consume it in foods where we would not even expect it. Many food manufacturers artificially add it to their products to make people enjoy the products more, and retailers sell them more. But for centuries, sugar in Europe was considered a luxury commodity that only the richest of the rich could afford. How is it that sugar is so cheap and widespread now? What are the hidden threats to its excessive consumption?
First of all, it should be mentioned that the term sugar in this article means mainly refined sugar, or white sugar, which is almost pure sucrose obtained from sugar beet or sugar cane. Compared to other sugars, such as fructose or glucose, the metabolism of sucrose is more complex because it is directly a disaccharide of fructose and glucose.
Sugar was introduced to the world from India, from where it traveled on trade routes to Europe, where it has been known since the Roman Empire. As its transport was very expensive, only very wealthy people could buy it. This situation persisted until the 17th century, when the transport of goods was cheaper and sugar cane was grown on a large scale in America and later, on a large scale, by the English again in India. During the Napoleonic Wars, due to trade blockades, local sugar beet began to be used more for sugar production. Over time, sugar consumption and production continued to grow, which was further supported mainly by mass production and the introduction of confectionery.
Today, sugar, in excess of the recommended levels, is consumed by almost everyone. We sweeten tea, coffee or cocoa with sugar, we drink it in sweet drinks such as Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta, or in bottled mineral water, we bake cakes and sweets from it, we have it in jam and sweet spreads, pancakes and cakes, biscuits and candies, but also in various sauces, ketchups, pastries, yoghurts or, for example, pâtés, where one would not even expect it at first glance.
However, excessive sugar consumption brings with it a number of health problems, some of which are caused indirectly by sugar. Many of these problems have grown into a, so called, civilization diseases and, especially in countries affected by Western consumerism, are the cause of premature deaths and huge healthcare expenditures. Among the problems caused by excessive sugar consumption we can count
- formation of dental caries,
- obesity and metabolic syndrome,
- reduction of consumption of beneficial foods,
- sugar addiction,