So Sweet

Two thousand five hundred years ago the Persian emperor Darius called sugar cane ‘the reed which gives honey without bees.’

The Persians kept the secret until the Arab invasions, and the Caliphate eventually brought the precious powder to the Iberian peninsula as it expanded west, developing sugar cane cultivation.

The Moors were the first to introduce spices to Europe, and like so many other things that Northern Europeans are nowadays prone to forget, these gustative wonders came in first through the ‘peripherals.’

In the early XIVth century, around the time the Caliphate was kicked out of Portugal, a pound of sugar sold in London for the equivalent of forty dollars—it now costs a buck.

The delights of cinnamon, cumin, and ginger, not to mention the widespread use of sugar to preserve fruit, must have whetted the Portuguese appetite for exploration—noblemen and commoners alike hungered for faraway places that held great promise of wealth.

It was during this first wave of globalization that cane culture turned into a cash cow in the New World, and evolved into a major driver for the slave trade.

The infamous triangle. The image focuses on the Caribbean, but the Portuguese played a major part in the 'export' of African slaves to Brazil.

The infamous triangle. The image focuses on the Caribbean, but the Portuguese played a major part in the ‘export’ of African slaves to Brazil.

Portugal introduced sugar plantations to the Americas, and set up a booming business in the newly-discovered Vera Cruz. By 1540, the Roças de açucar on the island of Santa Catarina numbered eight hundred—there were a further two thousand in northeast Brazil.

Because the roças, or sugar mills, were so labor-intensive, the social consequences of the industry were very far reaching. Sugar was arguably the greatest driver for slavery, and accounts for the mass displacement of West African peoples through a period of centuries.

From an annual UK production of thirty thousand metric tons in the mid-eighteenth century, the world now produces one hundred-eighty million tons every year—that’s almost three ounces per day for every person on earth.

The market dictates the need, and the huge increase in dietary carbohydrates, a good (bad) part of it in refined products, has had major consequences for human health.

Blood sugar levels are either ignored altogether or a major concern, there isn’t much middle ground.

Bad moon rising—the spread of diabetes on Planet Sugar.

Bad moon rising-the spread of diabetes on Planet Sugar.

Your blood sugar is measured in milligrams per liter, abbreviated as mg/l. The UK is of course different from everyone else, and Brits measure their sugar in moles—I don’t mean facial blemishes or small subterranean creatures—the English don’t weigh their glucose, they count molecules. Canada has come out in sympathy with the Brits, perhaps due to its fondness for the queen.

Normality is a relative notion, so it’s always fun to hear doctors state it as an absolute truth, usually with great vehemence.

In India you’ll be told (and head-wagging will ensue) that values above 85 mg/l are abnormal, whereas in Europe a (fasting) range between 70 and 100 mg/l is considered fine. It seems the Indians, with their penchant for math, just took the average.

In the US, some websites will extend that to 110 mg/l, and if you have diabetes, then the ADA recommends a fasting value of 70-130 mg/l.

Your cat or your dog can also suffer from high blood sugar—apparently for felines the normal range is 85-120 mg/l. Canines come in at an identical spread, so our four-legged friends can indulge more than us.

The onset of dog diabetes, or cat carbs, is a relatively recent worry—as in humans, the causes are an excess of refined foods and overeating. We feed our pets like we feed ourselves—too much, too often.

Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease, and we see it emerge increasingly earlier, and increasingly often. The projected increases for China and India by 2035 are stunning, due to the sheer numbers, and overall the number of diabetics will be up by over fifty percent in the next two decades—the consequences are dire, because the price of all that sweet stuff is blindness and amputation.

If you stick to vegetables of the above-ground persuasion, and go easy on the pasta and rice, you’ll avoid joining that ever-growing club. China and India, with diets rich in rice, flour, and a multitude of beans, will need a real food revolution. Soy, a staple in the East, chick peas, widely eaten in Arab countries, and black beans, a Latin American favorite, are all carbohydrate bombs—just like your friendly breakfast croissant.

The fast food industry delivers a lethal combo of buns, fries, and sodas. And then there’s beer…

But those of us who drink wine get a free pass.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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