The scapegoating of sugar dates to at least to the 18th century, when people lived in mortal fear of sexuality. British author Jonas Hanway blamed sugar for creating “fantastic desires and bad habits in which nature has no part” – and it’s not hard to guess what he meant. Children, he warned, were particularly susceptible to sugar’s detrimental effects, which also included “scurvy [and] weak nerves.”

Romanticizing “unprocessed” sweeteners also has historical antecedents. In 1852, physician James Redfield claimed that each stage of sugar processing was a “stage in the down-hill course of deception and mockery, of cowardice, cruelty, and degradation.” Animals that lived on honey were courageous and careful, “as, for example, the bee, the humming-bird, and the bear,” while those that preferred sugar were deficient in virtue, “as, for example, the housefly [and] the ant that lives in the sugar-bowl.”

Nor is it new to demonize sugar by associating it with drugs and alcohol. In the 19th century, temperance advocates spoke of sugar as a gateway drug, and a taste for sweets was thought to foreshadow deadlier habits. That’s what happened to Henry Haycroft, the fictional protagonist of an 1843 temperance tale, who eats “the sugar out of the bottom of his father’s toddy-glass,” before graduating to real drinks of sweet peppermint cordial. Redfield himself warned that “the use of sugar is the stepping-stone to intemperance.”


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It’s hard not to be a little skeptical when you know your history. I’ve had a number of people ask me about a recent article called “Three Ways Sugar Kills Your Libido.” In response, I point them to nutritionist John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that Kellogg), who in 1881 argued that “candie … excite the genital organs.” Sugar stimulated animal appetites, went the scientific logic of the day, so it led to hypersexuality. It seems we’ve come full circle when it comes to sugar and libido.