We're now in a jam about something so sweet and delicious it will ultimately kill some people.
By the 12th Century, sugar had made its way to England, was recognised as a spice, and was being used to treat everything from fever, cough, and stomach ailments to chapped lips. It had no medicinal effect, but it sure made people feel good.
By the 16th century it was known as white gold and was central to millions of Africans being shipping to the Americas as slaves. At the same time, sugar accounted for a third of Europe's entire economy and widespread, intense discussion had started about it's use.
Debate around sugar still rages today as we increasingly eat more and more of it.
Last year, the United States consumed 11,000,000 tons (or 10 billion kilograms) of sugar, which works out to about 600g per person each week, or roughly three cups.
That amount is about the same for New Zealanders. Two hundred years ago, people ate about half a cup of sugar a week; by the 1970s that had risen to one cup a week.
Sugar consumption is increasing exponentially and added to a greater variety of foods, many of them often lower-cost options, which unfairly then becomes more available to those on lower-incomes.
Regardless of our weight, the body cannot handle excess sugar and responds by laying down fat around the liver and pancreas, which triggers diabetes: essentially sugar poisons us. The rate of Type 2 diabetes has doubled around the world in the last 30 years, with one in 10 adults now suffering from this disease.
As a working GP, I see Type 2 diabetes as the single biggest medical equity issue we have today.
Sugar is essentially empty calories providing the body little to no nutritional value but adding weight, which increases the likelihood of health problems. That's one side of the argument.
The other argument is far starker and that's that sugar is toxic.
It is now estimated that 11 percent of the world's (and New Zealand's) total health budget is spent on diabetes, the majority related to Type 2 diabetes – a disease that can be treated early with diet, exercise, and the use of medications.
There's one simple thing that everyone can do to lower their risk of diabetes: cut down sugar. I'm not talking about a revolutionary lifestyle change overnight (although by all means, go ahead) but there's one thing you can do today – that everyone agrees on – to improve your health, and that's to stop drinking sugary soft drinks. About 33 per cent of total sugar consumption is from these drinks, which are a major contributor to diabetes.
A single can of soft drink a day increases your diabetes likelihood by 1.1 per cent. Turn the tap on and drink water, or if you can't do that, replace your favourite sugary beverage with a low-sugar option.
If we want to reduce the rate of diseases, like Type 2 diabetes, that are associated with poor health outcomes, we need to reduce the overall consumption of sugar in New Zealand. The human body was not designed to process three cups of sugar a week.
We need to reduce the reliance on sugar flavouring our food, we need further education, and a possible government intervention with a sugar tax because the cost of our continued addiction is too high to society and our children.
• Dr Bryan Betty is medical director of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.