There’s a good reason why we crave sweet foods. In the
pre-agriculture era—that is, for most of human existence—
sugar was a rare substance, a concentrated form of quick
energy found mainly in wild fruit and honey. Bears binge
on fatty wild salmon but don’t gain weight; when they gorge
themselves on berries they gain 500 pounds by the end of
the summer. Then they hibernate and lose the weight while
we just keep eating all winter! Our food environment has
changed a lot since the Stone Age, but the news hasn’t
reached the reward centers of our brains, which have always
been worried about nutritional scarcity. Evolution has wired
our brains to desire the easy access to energy that glucose
provides. Our brains may be smart, but they still don’t
understand that all this sugar is killing us.
It’s easy to see how our excessive consumption of sugar
is causing the diabetes pandemic: In 2014, the World HealthOrganization estimated that 422 million adults had type 2
diabetes, up from 108 million in 1980; that’s a 400 percent
increase.20 And remember, 1980 was the dawn of the lowfat, high-carb era of dietary recommendations. Even though
it has less than half the calories of fats, sugar sets off a spike
and then a plunge in insulin production, which inspires
more cravings for sugar and starches. Before long, our cells
no longer respond to insulin, and trouble sets in—diabetes,
which ravages the entire body. And that’s not all. Sugar
causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high
triglyceride levels, and heart disease.21 It promotes cancer
and can increase recurrence and mortality rates in cancer
patients.22 It speeds up the aging process in cells,23
including the neurons in your brain, leading to an increased
risk of dementia.24 It damages the liver exactly like alcohol
does.25 In fact, fatty liver from sugar consumption has now
become the number one cause of liver disease. And if you
think the best alternative to sugar is using artificial
sweeteners, well, think again. Artificial sweeteners may be
even worse for your brain and metabolic health.26 Rather
than satisfying cravings, they’ll push you to binge on more
sugar and junk food, creating a vicious cycle that leads to
obesity and diabetes.

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