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Sugar as the Main Culprit in Causing a Number of Chronic Diseases

The high-carbohydrate, low-fat doctrine that represents the cornerstone of contemporary dietary health advice is still thriving. Fat is the enemy whereas carbohydrates are the good guy. But, given recent research evidence, it is hard to understand why fat has become a dietary scapegoat while sugar escaped relatively unscathed?

This dietary principle remains virtually unchallenged even in the field of diabetes prevention. The usual focus of diabetes prevention is on encouraging weight loss in the overweight individuals through a generally healthy diet and increased physical activity but it is fat, particularly saturated fat, not sugar, that is considered the main risk factor for diabetes. This narrow-minded focus on saturated fats is in stark contrast to the latest scientific findings from a recently published observational study, examining the relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence.

Principally, the study examined the factors that in the world’s food supply explain diabetes rates, country-by-country, over the last decade. Combining data from several databases, the researchers analysed cross-sectional data on diabetes and nutritional components of food from 175 countries. They found that each 150 kcal per person, per day, increase in sugar availability was linked to a 1.1% increased prevalence of diabetes. After statistical evaluation of the data, they found no other food component to be significantly associated with prevalence of diabetes and concluded that changes in sugar availability alone explain changes in the prevalence of diabetes across the world.

Moreover, another large international epidemiological study has reported its findings recently, associating consumption of sugary beverages with a shocking number of 180 thousand deaths worldwide annually. By promoting excessive weight gain, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks lead to excess body weight, which results in driving up rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. According to the research and based on 2010 data, these sugar-sweetened beverages are associates with 133 thousand deaths from diabetes, 44 thousand deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6 thousand deaths from cancer annually, worldwide.

It should be noted here that the findings presented in the aforementioned studies are observational in nature, derived from population-level data and, therefore, they cannot be used as proof of causality, rather association. But along with plausible biological mechanisms, it would be inconsiderate to reject the hypothesis that consumption of sugar in all its various forms is a major dietary cause of chronic health diseases on a global scale. It does not come as a surprise to anybody that the United Nations has already stated that for the first time in human history chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. pose a larger health burden worldwide than infectious diseases, causing a staggering amount of 35 million deaths annually. And let us not forget that there are now 30% more people in the world who are obese than those who are undernourished. Hence, given growing evidence that sugar acts on the brain in such a way that it compels us to eat more, it might be time to tax sugar.