A history of sugar – the food nobody needs, but everyone craves - Deepstash

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Sugar: a threat to our health

Sugar: a threat to our health

Sugarcane is the world's third most valuable crop, yet it has little benefit to humanity. Obesity, cancer, dementia, heart disease and diabetes has spread to nations where sugar-based carbohydrates are available in abundance.

We need to take a step back and understand how sugar has grown to become a threat to our health.

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People used to eat very little sugar

Humans used to live on a diet containing very little sugar and almost no refined carbohydrates. Sugarcane was mostly used as a fodder crop to fatten pigs.

  • Evidence suggests that sugarcane evolved in South East Asia.
  • Chemically refined sugar appeared in India about 2,500 years ago, and spread to other parts of the world.
  • Cyprus and Sicily became important centres for sugar production, but it was a rare and expensive spice.
  • The island of Madeira was the first place to cultivate sugarcane for large-scale refinement in the late 15th century.

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Sugar and slave trade

Sugar and slave trade

The Portuguese found that Brazil had good conditions for sugar plantations. Brazil established a slave-based plantation economy and introduced its sugarcane to the Caribbean around 1647. This led to the growth which came to sustain the sugar craze of Western Europe.

A huge demand for labour arose to cultivate sugar plantations. It was met by a transatlantic slave trade, where about 12,570,000 slaves were shipped from Africa to the Americas from 1501 to 1867.

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Modern day affliction

Modern day affliction

The story of sugar and tobacco are very similar. Both products were first produced through slave labour and were seen as beneficial to health, but the sudden mass consumption from the mid-17th century created health risks.

Today, tobacco is widely acknowledged as addictive, but sugar can also drive responses similar to what we see from addiction. In the 21st century, the grip of sugar is stronger than that of tobacco or even alcohol. Sugar is also central to the world's economy and cultural heritage.

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