Since the 70s, sugar has been added to processed foods, both in its natural and synthetic forms, as a cheap additive. According to Peretti the process began in the USA where a government-lead drive to decrease food costs by increasing industrial-scale production of corn also resulted in mass development of high fructose corn syrup. Slowly the cheap sugary substance was added to processed foods in order to add flavour.
Later followed a period in which consumption of low-fat foods was encouraged. This movement came at a time when fat was being linked to higher rates of heart disease, a condition which in the developed world is the number one killer. However, in order to compensate for the lack of flavour resulting from the removal of fat, low-fat processed foods are loaded with sugars, with damaging consequences for health.
Why is sugar bad for us? Sugars provide the body with a quick source of energy, but excessive consumption is linked to instability of insulin levels and diabetes. Spikes in insulin have been linked with weight gain, in particular around the core, the area surrounding our vital organs, and storing fat around our heart is connected to cardiovascular disease. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar is bad as it causes an insulin surge which takes sugar out of our blood, resulting in levels of blood sugar and insulin dropping below normal. This causes lethargy and hunger which drives further calorie-consumption (often of the high-energy low-nutrition kind). Diabetes is a serious medical illness which can cause long term damage to the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and if not managed correctly can result in multiple organ failure.
In addition, fructose, the type of sugar found naturally in fruit though more importantly in many processed foods, behaves differently to other sugars. Tests carried out on rats show that fructose inhibits leptin, the hormone which regulates appetite. This means that people who eat high quantities of fructose are less likely to feel satiated by their food and will eat more as a result. As very few people actually eat the recommended daily amount of fruit, processed foods are a main source of fructose for most and they are making us fat.
What is the solution? The answer is to cut down drastically on processed foods as these contain cheap additives which offer little in the way of proper nutrition. I appreciate that this is easier said than done as sugars are highly addictive, as anyone who has ever tried to cut sugar completely out of their diet will be aware - the withdrawal symptoms include lethargy and headaches. But anyone who is serious about their health and waistline needs to take the necessary steps to improve their diet, and this means taking the time to find out more about the food you consume.
Why not try some of our healthy recipes?
Source: Why our food is making us fat - The Guardian (11/06/2012)