Statistically speaking, every German consumes about 34 kg of sugar per year. The human body actually needs no supplementary sugar, it can easily produce sugar from carbohydrates itself. The sweet tooth is apparently innate, because even breast milk tastes very sweet, and in nature a sweeter flavour is a signal meaning “non-toxic”. For our ancestors, food was scarce and sugar was only available in the form of honey or fruit. Today, there is sugar in abundance – a billion dollar business for the industry. Table sugar, or chemically speaking sucrose, consists of two parts: glucose and fructose, or fruit sugar.
Sugar is Sugar
The body utilises glucose with the aid of the hormone insulin. Since fructose is processed directly by the liver, it has long been considered a healthier alternative. However now there is evidence that fructose promotes obesity and promotes the development of diabetes. If a lot of fructose, a substance added to soft drinks because of its high sweetening power, is consumed, the liver stores fat. Thus even a child can already develop fatty liver. Fructose from fruit is considered to be less stressful for the body, since fibre needs to be digested in fruits and so ensures that the sugar does not too quickly make its way into the liver. In addition, the body by eating fruit also absorbs essential vitamins.
How much sugar is too much?
Yet how much sugar can the human body absorb without becoming ill? Dr Ina Bergheim from the University of Hohenheim, who has already for years been dealing with the issue of sugar consumption in relation to overweight children, commented on the topic to WDR [Westdeutscher Rundfunk, government mainstream media equivalent to BBC covering the western region of Germany]: “So far there is little or no data that states what too much is. We have found in our own studies that we have children who are of normal weight and have not suffered either from liver damage or high blood pressure, but consume twice as much sugar in comparison to an overweight child.”
Is sugar a poison?
For Professor Robert Lustig from the University of California, San Francisco USA, sugar is in the truest sense of the word a weighty societal problem. He has warned for years that sugar is not one problem in the control of obesity and its consequences, but is THE problem. “Most people, including many scientists, are of the opinion that sugar is therefore dangerous because it is just made of empty calories. We go even further: sugar is in our opinion a poison like alcohol, because it acts in metabolism similarly to alcohol”. His statements are not without controversy, but there are now even in the U.S. more and more sugar-critical scientists. “If sugar is addictive and when too much of it is available everywhere, people will consume sugar if we in society do not intervene”, says Prof. Lustig. Prof. Rainer Spanagel of the University of Heidelberg puts the sugar problem in a nutshell: “Civilisation has overtaken evolution, because evolution had not expected that people would one day live in a paradise. And that’s what we do have today concerning nourishment.”
The slim also endangered
Sugar is not only a problem of ending up with overweight people. Even with lean people, insulin balance can get into a mess with too much sugar, as about 15% of non-obese Type II diabetic patients show. And tumor cells love sugar – this is not a subject of scientific dispute. Some researchers, including Professor Lewis Cantley from Harvard Medical School in Boston, even assume that sugar can cause cancer. He suggests that 30% of cancer cases in Europe and the United States could be prevented through a more sensible consumption of sugar. Yet that’s still just an assumption. What is nonetheless certain however is that 24 different types of cancer occur more often among diabetics, notes Cantley. And because more and more younger people suffer from diabetes, the risk of cancer in this age group also rises, he adds.
What are the impacts of a more realistic sugar intake?
That sugar is causally involved in various diseases is well known. Yet how much sugar is actually too much? This question was tackled by a team of researchers from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, USA. For this purpose, they fed half of their nearly 100 wild-type mice, which possessed natural metabolism and behaviour, with normal food and the other half with sugary food. 25% of the kilojoules of the sugary food came from glucose-fructose mixture as also occurs in many soft drinks. Conveyed in human terms this reflects a normal healthy diet plus an additional three glasses of lemonade daily, explain the researchers. About a quarter of Americans consume this dose of sugar daily.
Earlier death, fewer offspring, no assertiveness
During their study, the scientists observed the behaviour of the animals, their reproductive capacity and their life span. With females, the consumption of sugar had an impact on the life span. After 32 weeks, 35% of the sugar eaters had died; among the normal-diet mice the figure was only 17% – a mere half. Among the males, the sugar did not influence the death rate, but probably did their reproductive capacity: the sugar-fed males had about a quarter fewer offspring than the males in the control group, the researchers report. And their behaviours also showed differences: the males of the sugar group managed significantly less often to win themselves coveted places in the cage.
Their experimental results which the scientists published in August in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, were interpreted by them as follows: “Sugar is harmful even in doses that we take in every day and have previously been considered harmless”, says the study coordinator Dr. James Ruff. And perhaps even more frightening: the sugar-consuming experimental animals did not differ in purely external form from non-sugar-fed control animals: they were neither fat nor did they have elevated blood sugar or abnormal insulin levels. Only their cholesterol levels were slightly elevated, according to the researchers.
Why had such investigations not already long existed? “There quite definitely were, only using much higher doses of sugar and highly-bred laboratory mice that were also kept in a rather unnatural environment”, write the researchers, who were mainly interested in real-world experimental conditions.
Sugar ban in New York City
That sugar has already become a huge problem in our society is shown by the so far unsuccessful efforts of the mayor of New York City to conquer the sweet white powder: 60% of the residents of New York City are considered overweight. Mayor Bloomberg saw himself forced to react and tried to have all XXL cups for soft drinks and coffee banned by law earlier this year. These drinks were to no longer be sold in cups with a volume of over 16 ounces, ie. 473 millilitres. However, the well-intentioned bill could not withstand the legal action of the beverage industry. Whether the size of the beverage container is actually instrumental in the nutrition style of the people also remains questionable.