Mass production of sweetness: Why can’t we stop eating sugar and getting fat?

In the families of young people of our generation, there are probably one or two “middle-aged” people. Because of work, I frequently go to wine and dinner parties, and when I get home, I lie motionless on the sofa and watch TV. As I grow older, my body gradually becomes heavy. When I started exercising, my legs trembled and I gave up.

“Lazy, refusing to go out, and not doing housework, who will gain weight if he doesn’t gain weight?” My mother summed up my father’s round “beer belly”.



Is it really just because it’s delicious and lazy? A careful review of the data reveals that obesity is a “disease of the times” —our parents’ generation began to lose shape almost at the same time . The obesity rate of China’s urban population rose rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the rate of overweight (BMI>25) soared from about 10% in 1989 to nearly 20% in 1997; adult males in Chinese cities in 2002, 34% are overweight, and more than 15% have entered the ranks of obesity.

According to my mother, my father, who used to weigh less than 120 pounds, gained weight at the speed of light after getting married. “After we got married, my grandparents bought a refrigerator for the family as a dowry. We went to the supply and marketing agency to buy that kind of bulk ice cream and went home. Your dad gained 10 catties in one summer.”

Not only ice cream, but also bottled cola, candies in bulk, biscuits and snacks… For China, one of the most important things that happened in the late 1980s was the great abundance of material things . People no longer need to show coupons to buy things, and can enjoy artificial sweetness as much as their finances allow. Snacks have become the norm in urban families, shaping our childhood memories and bringing the term “obesity”, which was once unfamiliar to us, into our daily life.

At the same time, almost all countries in the world also embarked on the fast track of obesity around the 1980s—whether it was the United States and the United Kingdom, which had already entered the ranks of developed countries at that time, or developing countries in East Asia and Latin America. Obesity rates have increased significantly in 113 countries since the 1980s, and in 73 countries their obesity rates have doubled, and so far no country has successfully reversed this trend. This is an era of industrial mass production of sweetness, and it is also an era of mass production of fat.

The Secret of Industrial Food: Developing Humanity

The model of industrial sweetness is probably nothing more than “Fat House Happy Water” Coca-Cola.

Why are sweet drinks so addictive? How are they produced?

The most critical research and development content of soft drinks is the control of sugar content . A 330ml can of Coke contains as much as 35 grams of sucrose. However, under the background of carbon dioxide and caramel aroma, it does not have any greasy taste. It only makes people feel refreshed and pleasant.

The “Vanilla Coke” launched in 2007 has a strong aroma of vanilla cream, and people can’t feel the added sugar of up to 41 grams.

At the Coca-Cola Center in Atlanta, people can taste more than 100 kinds of soft drinks under Coca-Cola. From Cherry Coke to Grape Fanta to the slightly weird Root Beer, I drank all the sparkling sweet drinks and found that almost all of them were about the same level of “sweet”.


So happy 丨 pixabay

This just right sweetness ratio is obtained through countless deployments and experiments. The key to the experiment is to find the ” Bliss point ” in people’s senses.

Imagine that you have a glass of plain water in front of you, and every time you add a little sugar to it, you will like it a little more when you taste it. The moment you add sugar until you can’t add any more and it will become “greasy” if you add more, your pleasure will be pushed to the maximum by the sweet feeling, and you can’t wait to drink it all in one sip.

The so-called bliss point is this position.

The term was coined by Howard Moskowitz, Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Harvard University and an authority on the food R&D industry. He has participated in the research and development of well-known food companies such as Kraft and Pepsi. The most recent successful example should be the new flavor of Dr. Pepper, the star of the American beverage industry.

Dr. Pepper’s Gabriel-Yiquan company hired Moskowitz’s research and development team to prepare nearly 4,000 kinds of puree drinks and conduct large-scale experiments. A large number of subjects invited from all over the United States needed to evaluate these purees from various aspects of the senses. All the collected data is entered into a complex algorithm model, and a 135-page report analyzes the most critical variables to obtain the optimal taste type and corresponding sweetness ratio. The report also pointed out that an appropriate amount of added sugar can be added to replace pepper puree, and the same effect can be achieved at a lower cost.



Dr. Pepper’s new flavor—”Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper”—was such a hit that in 2008, the company was spun off and listed as a separate company with a market value of more than $10 billion—even former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sympathetic to it. Dr. Pepper favors it.

Not just beverages, how to scientifically add sugar can be said to be the focus of the entire food industry .

Walk into any supermarket, whether it is Wal-Mart and Carrefour, which are famous for their cheapness and large quantity, or Whole Foods and BHS, which are full of all kinds of expensive organic imported food, just pick up the most conspicuous products on the shelves, and carefully study the nutrition table. You will find that many foods have a lot of added sugar artificially. Needless to say, sinful desserts , salty canned meat, sausages and hams also hide a lot of sugar.

The most astonishing thing is the so-called “healthy and nutritious” breakfast cereal cereal -a serving of about 50 grams of cereal is likely to contain more than 15 grams of sugar, and the measurement is a full tablespoon.

Another achievement of Moskowitz was digging into Americans’ preference for pasta sauce . He analyzed the taste of several pasta sauces most commonly chosen by Americans, and by adding “appropriate” sugar to different pasta sauces, he formulated various flavors from strong to refreshing, but without sweetness. Under his “invention”, a salty pasta sauce of about 80 grams will have about 10 grams of sugar in it, which is equivalent to two and a half Oreo sandwich biscuits, all of which are without your knowledge into your stomach.

This is the so-called “food engineering”.

The term originated in the early 20th century and was originally used to improve the efficiency of food production and extend shelf life. But after the war, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, under the fierce market competition, the direction of food engineering turned to the control of people’s senses, that is, to develop food that makes people want to stop. In addition to sugar, there is also fat and salt and other spices, which work together to form a complex matrix. The work of food research and development is to use the principles of psychology and neuroscience to control various variables and use a large number of experiments and data to find the “bliss point”.

The mysterious and mysterious things like “pleasure” are smashed and thoroughly understood by science, and combined at will, so that each food can perfectly match at least one group of people with similar tastes, making it difficult to resist paying.

But why sugar?

Why the industry chose to mass produce sweet

The food industry’s love of sugar is not without reason. Sugar isn’t just sweet, it adds flavor to a wide variety of flavors. The Maillard reaction of sugar and protein, as well as the caramelization reaction of sugar at high temperature, provide food with a large number of aroma sources, which can reconcile the monotonous taste of food.

These principles have long been applied in daily cooking: the sweetness of soy sauce makes fried meat more fragrant; the fried sugar in braised pork makes dishes beautiful in color and texture.


sugar 丨 pixabay

Physiologically speaking, sugar is probably the closest thing to an “addiction” in normal food. When people consume sugar, the dopamine receptors in the central nervous system that is responsible for providing pleasure will be activated, providing people with an experience similar to the fulfillment of expectations. , Get satisfied happiness. And, unlike salt and fat, sugar can make newborn babies show a pleasant response, which can be said to be the closest to instinctive drive.

Therefore, to find the “bliss point” of food, controlling the addition of sugar is the most convenient and quick way .

But it wasn’t just biology that allowed sugar to assert its supremacy, but technology and politics as well.

Cane sugar used to be the most important sugar. Most of the sucrose in the Western world came from plantations in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The sugar in the United States originally came mainly from Cuba, and the US once controlled most of the sugar industry in Cuba. However, the Cuban revolution succeeded in 1959 and joined the socialist camp. Soon the relationship between the two sides deteriorated, trade was interrupted, and the cost of sugar rose sharply. When the Vietnam War affected the sugar supply in Southeast Asia and made the situation worse, the Nixon administration began to actively search for sugar substitutes.

At this time, the team of Dr. Yoshiyuki Takasaki of the Japan Institute of Industrial Technology developed a technology to convert starch into fructose on a large scale: the starch solution was first converted into dextrin under the catalysis of amylase, and then catalyzed into dextrin by glucoamylase. Glucose, through the isomerization of glucose isomerase, forms fructose with higher sweetness. This process can be repeated to gradually increase the sweetness of the syrup to a level comparable to or even higher than that of sucrose. This is the so-called high fructose corn syrup . The key to the process is the mass production of isomerase and the controllability of the whole process, which are overcome by technology.



The raw material starch is almost the most indispensable thing in the United States. At that time, in order to solve the energy crisis caused by rising oil prices, the United States introduced a large amount of cheap labor from Mexico, and planted a large amount of corn capable of producing ethanol fuel in the vast Midwestern Plains, which resulted in excess corn production and very low prices.

The cost of high fructose corn syrup is only half to two-thirds of that of sucrose, and it has a purer taste, is more convenient to use, and remains stable at high temperatures, which is simply a boon for the food industry.

The alliance of food industry groups and agricultural groups took the opportunity to lobby the government to provide large subsidies for corn production, and by the way, add a tariff to sugar. In the 80s, almost every beverage company switched from sugar to corn syrup, and other foods began to sweeten out of control.

The large-scale use of corn syrup has caused the price of sucrose in other parts of the world to drop , and the trend of the food industry in the United States that is so sweet that it hurts the tooth has taken the opportunity to spread to the world.

Obesity was off the radar of the U.S. government when corn syrup was sweeping the food industry. For coronary heart disease and other “rich man’s disease” research, most of them are placed on fat intake. This is another great opportunity for the food industry – they can come out with a lot of “healthy” low-fat options, and then add more sugar for flavor. People immersed in the illusion of “health” unknowingly consume more sugar, unaware that the danger is approaching.

dangerous sugar

With added sugar all the rage, public health scholars are finding things to be complicated.

Obesity rates in the United States began to rise in the late 1970s, skyrocketed in the 1990s, and peaked in the early 2000s. And the calories people eat don’t increase proportionally . What happened?

Early nutritionists more than a hundred years ago believed that since the human body is a physical system, nutrition naturally follows energy conservation. If you consume more energy than you consume, you will gain weight, and vice versa, you will lose weight. The calorie, a unit of energy derived from physics, became a concept in nutrition.

As a simple and quantifiable standard, the concept of calories has made great contributions to eradicating famine and dealing with food shortages in wartime, and has also become the core of nutrition. However, its simplicity is an illusion. A growing body of physiological research shows that there is an inextricable link between what a person eats and how much energy he expends. Changing your weight is more than just adding or subtracting numbers. Hormones that control the body’s metabolic process are the key to the obesity problem.


The calories provided by sugar are called “empty calories” 丨 pixabay

The calories in the food we eat are not exactly the same. The calories provided by sugar are called ” empty calories “. It does not provide people with a sense of fullness and causes the body to release signals to the brain to store energy. Whether it is high fructose corn syrup, or fructose and sucrose, after ingestion, it will cause the body’s blood sugar to rise and the secretion of insulin. Insulin will block the work of another hormone – “leptin” secreted by fat, which is equivalent to blocking the brain’s perception of fat and telling the brain “this person needs more fat”. The mice whose leptin signaling was blocked immediately began to gain weight crazily, followed by a never-ending appetite and a large reduction in exercise.

Excessive intake of sweets can easily lead people into this metabolic cycle of nausea.

Why would sugar open us up to a mechanism of infinite accumulation? Research on primates may shed some light. The main energy of the fruit is sugar, and the orangutan in Indonesia will accumulate a large amount of fat through the intake of fructose during the fruit ripening season every year, and then consume it when food is scarce. The fruit ripens only for one or two months a year. The body must open this fast track for sugar in order to store as much energy as possible. It is entirely conceivable that humans, as primates, may have had a similar mechanism. But now, with our 24/7 supply of sweets, let our evolutionary memory of abundance carry us toward endless obesity.

By the time we realized all this, obesity had become an epidemic . Many people who look thin and of normal weight also accumulate a considerable amount of fat in the abdominal and visceral areas, and this fat happens to be the deadliest, multiplying the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Is all this due to our laziness, or the greed of the food industry? Or blame the laissez-faire of the regulatory agencies, or even the lag of scientific research? Perhaps none of us is to blame.

The lingering shadow of obesity

Now that society has recognized the dangers of sugar, can food companies be under pressure to change? If more people pursue health, will more “healthy” food be favored by consumers?

In the 1990s, some American food industry giants have realized this problem. In 1999, Michael Mudd, then vice president of Kraft, had worked hard to promote the reform of the food industry, urging companies to assume corresponding social responsibilities.

At a summit of industry executives, Mulder, for the first time, began talking about the nutrition community’s health warnings about added sugar. On a powerpoint, he wrote in the largest font possible: “Slippery” – if the food industry does not take action to take care of people’s health, but instead contributes to obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, their fate may be the same as Like the tobacco companies, they lost all their allies and became the target of public criticism.



Even against all odds, Kraft decided to go it alone.

In 2003, Mulder and two other company executives formulated a series of health plans and began to reduce the salt, sugar and fat content in the products. The sugar content in the famous Capri Sun juice (Capri Sun) and Quduoduo biscuits It was reduced; in the whole year of 2003, Kraft lost up to 30 billion calories in a total of 200 products, and the social response was very positive, at least it was a successful public relations.

However, at the end of 2003, the performance of many products of Kraft began to decline, and the financial report was very pessimistic. The biggest pressure comes from investors on Wall Street. “If companies are worried about people’s waistlines, what about their own sales?” said one securities analyst. “If you want to achieve 3% sales growth, you have to make people fat.”

At this time, “Kisses”, which produces chocolate, began to enter Kraft’s traditional field of biscuit market, and launched a chocolate sandwich biscuit, which combined rich chocolate and sweet cotton candy sandwich, which was very popular. Kraft had to fight, rolling out Oreo waffles, three-layer Oreos, and Oreo soft cakes, each with more calories than the last—like someone who just declared a weight loss. Mulder, who initially advocated health, also left in 2004.



In the United States, all food supplies can provide an average of nearly 4,000 calories per person per day, which is nearly twice the average daily requirement of adult men; about 10,000 kinds of food are put on the market every year, crowding out the scarce space on supermarket shelves Location. The ultimate goal of each food is to make people see it, think of the wonderful taste in the mouth, and put it in the shopping cart without anyone noticing it, instead of choosing the “low-sugar version” that is hard to swallow after repeated calculations; No matter how self-disciplined people are, I am afraid that they will occasionally open caramel chocolate and take a big bite, and enjoy the “guilty pleasure”. If this remains the same, asking food companies to play the “health card” will always be empty talk.

Do consumers not understand? You could say that we know so little about sugar that we voluntarily binge-buy junk snacks, creating a “market” choice. But understanding health in food is a long and arduous road . Not to mention how difficult it is to thoroughly understand various nutritional terms and their corresponding functions, even the display specifications of simple ingredients such as oil, sugar, and fat on food nutrition labels still have a lot of controversy and wrangling. Interested parties will continue to try to lobby the regulatory authorities to obfuscate some important information. For example, sucrose and starch are now included in the “carbohydrates” on the domestic nutrient composition table, but how can a piece of whole wheat bread and a tablespoon of sugar “carbohydrates” be the same thing? Food companies are also trying to make a fuss about the “per serving” (per serving), “a serving” of chocolate is only 100 calories, awesome, isn’t it? But they sell 8 servings in a whole block, and you can eat them all in one sitting.



Even food researchers don’t know enough . The human body is an extremely complex organism that cannot be summed up simply by addition and subtraction. Extensive food-related research, also involving the food industry—the ADA’s booklet was funded by the Dairy Council and the Sugar Association; the American Academy of Nutrition’s annual meeting is co-sponsored by Quaker Oats; the Coca-Cola Company is involved An educational event of the American Academy of Clinical Nutrition. Although funding relationships cannot prove or necessarily lead to bias, “relevance of interest” is an unavoidable topic that will continue to generate controversy.

The market has clearly told us that people can no longer withdraw their hand from junk food.

world that has changed

Imagine you are a hard-working father/mother who just got promoted to a management position. Most of your energy is taken up by work. When you get home, you are exhausted physically and mentally. You have to open the takeaway software and choose the nearest McDonald’s; It is obviously more practical to get up at 6:30 to prepare a healthy breakfast and let the children get cold milk from the refrigerator to make cereal.

When you see a middle-aged person who is gaining weight, you may want to accuse him of being lazy, but he may be the most hardworking person in the company. He has been working overtime and ordering takeaway for three weeks in a row—is fat really equal to being lazy?


nowhere to escape 丨 pixabay

Today our society is used to seeing body shape as a sign of self-control , and not being able to lose weight is a sign of insufficient personal perseverance. But the fact is that an “ideal” lifestyle has always been a luxury. It’s just that ordinary workers a hundred years ago may have faced malnutrition, but today we are faced with industrial mass-produced obesity. Fighting it requires not only willpower, but also sleep, mental state, leisure time, gym and nutritionist, and even basic fresh fruits and vegetables are a burden for some people. In contrast, cheap industrial food is the most realistic choice .

As a result, people’s diet consumption structure has been completely changed .

Guardian health reporter George Monbiot (George Monbiot) reviewed the British household consumption data over the years and found that people are not eating more now than they were in 1976, but what they eat is very different : Eggs have halved, breakfast cereal consumption has doubled, fresh potatoes have halved, yet potato chips have tripled, and ice cream has more than tripled.

The most notable change, of course, is sugar . Today, the average American consumes nearly 30 kilograms of sugar per person per year from sweetened beverages, most of which is corn syrup. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? That’s just one and a half bottles of “Fat House Happy Water” every day.

what should we do? I have no idea. I only know that if my father were to go back to the summer more than 20 years ago, he would still buy vanilla ice cream in bulk from the increasingly dazzling stores without hesitation, and sit in front of the newly bought TV every night to eat it. . The mouth is sweet and delicate like never before, surrounded by brand-new furniture and appliances, and his daughter who is about to be born can grow up surrounded by candy since she was a child… At that time, there was no more happy life than this. up.

Author: plum

Editors: Fangorn, Li Xiaokui


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