Sugar addiction: the disease of the 21st century

Soft drinks, industrial pastry, dairy desserts, ketchup, alcoholic drinks… All of these foods are common in our Western diet: high in calories, very desirable, and high in added sugars. To this list could be added, among many others, the cereals we eat for breakfast, energy drinks, jams, etc.

The food industry uses this element which is very attractive to the human palate, sugar, to enhance the taste of all these products, causing a clear dependence on these processed foods in the long term.

Sugar: a shadow pandemic

The World Health Organization estimates that 25 grams of sugar per day is the recommended amount, setting a maximum limit in adults of 50 grams. However, consumption in Western societies greatly exceeds this limit, standing at 70 grams per day per person in Spain and 126.4 in the United States (Pablos, 2016).

These rates only include free sugars, that is, those added artificially during food processing. The natural sugars present, for example, in the fruit, do not constitute a serious danger.

The effects of irresponsible sugar consumption

The counterproductive effects of this high consumption of processed sugars are not limited to simple decay, but go much further. While in developing countries the main cause of death is infectious diseases, in developed countries the vast majority of deaths are due to noncommunicable diseases. Of these, the vast majority are aggravated by lifestyle and diet; among them, cardiovascular diseases (stroke, myocardial infarction, etc.) and metabolic diseases, ie diabetes mellitus, obesity, atherosclerosis, hyperlipemia and hypertension. Consumption of the foods mentioned above and, therefore, the accumulation of excess fat in the body, aggravate these diseases (Álvarez-Campillo, 2009).

In the face of this western epidemic of sugar addiction, countries like the UK are planning to tax the consumption of sugary soft drinks with taxes of up to 20%. Others, like Hungary, set this rate based on the amount of sugar, fat and salt in the food. This move has led many manufacturers to cut back on these ingredients to avoid paying more taxes, resulting in positive changes in consumers’ diets (Galindo, 2016).

If it tastes so good, why is it so bad?

In his book El mono obeso (2010), José Enrique Campillo Álvarez answers this question from the point of view of Darwinian medicine. This medical approach, also called evolutionary medicine, studies disease in the context of biological evolution. Based on the fact that the current “design” of human beings is the result of millions of years of evolution and genetic variation, disease would arise when it does not adapt to the demands of the environment.

Our ancestors evolved in contexts where food shortages were chronic, also requiring a lot of physical exercise in order to have little food. This situation, which has occurred over millions of years, has meant that, through natural selection, individuals survive who have the genetic adaptations necessary to make the most of periods of abundance and resist those of scarcity. Among these adaptations are those that promote metabolic processes that help with the accumulation of fat after we have fed us. Also those which promote the maintenance of these lipid deposits when food is scarce.

Abundance of food, the first step towards denaturing

However, all this has changed since the development of agriculture and animal husbandry around 15,000 years ago. Contrary to what happened to the scarcity experienced by our ancestors, with the development of these technologies there was an abundance that had not been seen from our great-grandparents, the Ardipithecus ramidus lived in lush forests , full of fruit at your fingertips. . This technological development has reached the point mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Today, without spending almost any energy, we can eat large amounts of food even though in biology there is a universal law which states that every living being must “pay” a certain amount of energy through physical activity for it. to carry. I know something in my mouth. This is the ideal scenario for the onset of sugar addiction, Because its availability has increased, but the same has not happened with our biological design.

According to Campillo, it seems that despite what the popular saying goes, we are not what we eat, but rather a product of what our ancestors ate. Following the latest scientific research, it is also suspected that the human body needs a certain amount of physical exercise to achieve normal functioning and maintain homeostatic balance.

For example, contrary to the general belief that the hearts of athletes are enlarged as a result of intense physical exercise, it is the organ of the rest of the population that has not acquired the right size. Therefore, having our body of a design that does not adapt to the circumstances of the present environment, there is an internal shock which gives rise to diseases of opulence.

What are the diseases of wealth?

Obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia and atherosclerosis often go hand in handSo this set of diseases has been framed in the so-called metabolic syndrome linked to sugar addiction. This, in turn, usually leads to cardiovascular disease.

A high calorie diet, unbalanced intake and a sedentary lifestyle could lead, for example, to a gradual accumulation of fat. After eating foods containing sugars, they are metabolized and converted into glucose, which is distributed by the body. When there is excess glucose that is not used, it is converted to fat in adipose tissue. This accumulation can become excessive in the stomach, this central obesity being an important risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases.

Type 2 diabetes, which will number 300 million people affected by 2025, is most common in adults. It is generally associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. It causes a deficit in the assimilation of sugars in the body, which results in an accumulation of glucose in the blood (hyperglycemia) and cannot be used as a source of energy. Insulin, secreted by the pancreas, is responsible for facilitating the entry of glucose into cells. People with type 2 diabetes develop resistance to insulin, which causes these problems. In recent times, it is increasing its incidence in children and adolescents due to the abuse of sweets and pastries. The main consequence of untreated type 2 diabetes is myocardial infarction and other heart problems.

The term hyperlipemia refers to excess fat circulating in the bloodstream. Given the impossibility of its dissolution in the blood, fats travel through the arteries, promoting the appearance of cholesterol deposits on the walls of these. On the other hand, in atherosclerosis, excessive harmful fats form plaques in the arteries. Upon reaching a point of accumulation where blood can no longer flow, there would be a heart attack (if this occurs in the arteries of the heart) or stroke (in an artery of the brain), resulting in the death of the tissue. who is affected by not receiving blood.

Finally, hypertension would also affect adults and would be another trigger of cardiovascular disease, in addition to accelerating atherosclerosis. Its visible symptoms may not appear until well in the disease, when the excessive blood pressure overloads both arteries causing one of them to rupture.

Prevent metabolic syndrome

Nobody appreciates the prospect of suffering such suffering, yet the vast majority of the population is doing nothing to prevent it. Food education and sensitization on these issues by health authorities could help curb, To some extent, this epidemic caused by diseases of opulent societies. Since the human genome has not changed over the past millennia, the closer we get our way of life to the biological design of our body, the more our health will appreciate it.

In terms of dietary guidelines, as a doctor, Campillo recommends reducing the current daily amount of calories ingested, reducing the intake of fast (sugary) carbohydrates, increasing the intake of foods containing plant fiber, and reducing intake of those that contain saturated fat and trans fat. , in addition to paying special attention to foods that contain chemicals that can be toxic or contaminating. In terms of physical exercise, to balance activity, moderate intensity and long duration activity is recommended. This is, for example, walking an hour a day at a good pace or jogging for at least forty minutes between three and four days a week. A good walking distance would be 6 miles per day, or 12,000 steps, If you have a step counter.

In conclusion, despite the short-term temptation caused by the succulent foods that surround us, a look to the future and a good information base should allow us to avoid certain unnecessary excesses.

Bibliographical references:

  • Campillo, J. (2009). Darwinian medicine for the diseases of wealth. Available at:
  • Campillo, J. (2010). The obese monkey. Barcelona: Critical.
  • Galindo, C. (2016). Can Taxes on Sugary Soft Drinks Save Lives? [online] COUNTRY.
  • Pablos, G. (2016). Liters of sugar … flow through your veins. [online] THE WORLD.

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