A health food store owner, Pat Baker, said the human population's consumption of sugar may have changed the species and not for the better, during a meeting of Friends United for a Safe Environment on Tuesday at the Nelson Room of the Texarkana Public Library.
Baker said "The Case Against Sugar," a book written by best-selling author Gary Taubes, states that western diseases, including cancer, gout, hypertension and dementia, among others, show direct links to sugar.
"Nutrition researchers and public health authorities have typically been of two minds about the hypothesis that a single nutrient might be to blame for this spectrum of chronic disease associated with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes, or that a single phenomenon might be responsible," she said.
She added that the influence of metabolic programming, or imprinting, on the generations to come suggests that our consumption of sugar over the centuries may have changed the species.
"Transform an environment so dramatically, as sugar has transformed what we eat and drink in ours, and the response of individuals today to any amount of sugar is vastly different from what it would have been centuries ago," Baker stated.
She also explored how the rates of diabetes increased in the late 1900s, when sugar was made more readily available to the public, and how doctors began narrowing the cause of the disease down to sugar. Then the sugar industry stepped in and began promoting sugar in advertisements and, later on in the 1970s, the sugar industry launched a public relations campaign to defend sugar and attack its critics. She said the sugar iundustry was responsible for delaying research to determine if sugar caused diabetes and raised the risk of heart disease for another 20 years.
Now the general population knows the dangers of sugar, yet it still consumes it in mass quantities. To explain why, Baker explained the properties of sugar and the reasons it is still a main part of many people's diet.
"Sugar induces the same response in the region of the brain known as the reward center as do nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol," she said. It was included in the drug food category on which European empires were built from the 16th century onward. Other substances in the category included tea, coffee, chocolate, rum and tobacco.
Baker also described the link between tobacco and sugar, stating that sugar is a critical ingredient in American cigarettes, as flue-cured Virginia tobacco is soaked in sugar to make the substance inhalable, adding to the deadly effects of smoking.
"Sugar is unique in that it is both a nutrient and a psychoactive substance with some addictive characteristics," she said. "Most of us will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar because we'll never go long enough without sugar to find out."
Baker also spoke about how much sugar the human body can safely consume.
"The question of how much is too much becomes a personal decision, just was we all decide as adults what level of alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes we'll ingest," she said. "Enough evidence exists for us to consider sugar very likely to be a toxic substance, and to make an informed decision about how best to balance the likely risks with the benefits."