The phrase “Diseases of Civilization” has unfortunate implications: that people in the great civilizations of Asia, Africa, and South America are too barbarous to be able to acquire diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. The preferred term now is “lifestyle diseases.” Either way, these are the ailments that are brought on by the modern Western diet and way of life.

The book I’m reading quotes a doctor from a century ago writing with consternation about diseases that were increasing. In those days, of course, diseases were going away. Smallpox, cholera, all those horrible acute diseases were being conquered by hygiene and new drugs.

But the new chronic diseases were mystifyingly on the rise. There were theories about the reason modern life led to these strange conditions, but the reasons were uncertain.

The author points out that it’s impossible to prove with human trials that sugar is the cause, as he believes. First, everyone in the U.S. eats sugar. It’s almost impossible not to. You’d have to have trials lasting decades, and you’d have to figure out how to make sure the control group didn’t consumer sugar. It’s completely different from smokers and nonsmokers.

But you can look at populations. The Pima, the Marshallese, and similar populations which had no diabetes or heart disease, then were introduced to sugar and within a generation had 50% plus diabetes. Without the slow increase in sugar Europeans had, they didn’t have a chance to adapt. Even with our adaptations, our bodies can’t be healthy with the levels of sugar intake we have. But the latecomers to the sweet feast show the effects much more clearly than we do.

This is pretty convincing.

Nonethless, I have been eating a lot of sugar lately. I don’t drink sodas or put sugar in my tea. I don’t eat processed foods with hidden sugars. But I have been eating ice cream and cookies and even doughnuts in ridiculous quantities. That is, three or four servings of sweets a day — about 12 teaspoons. Twice the current recommendations.

The average American eats more than 22 teaspoons of sugar per day.

I think I will be getting strict again when I get back from Paris, about a month from now. It’s two weeks till I leave, so this is very spurious reasoning. There is no reason that I should be preparing for my two weeks of unlimited pastry by eating dessert with every meal now.

We are surrounded by sugar all the time. The marketing is intense. The foods themselves are designed to make us want more. But, as Melissa Hartwig points out, nobody is tying us up and forcing us to eat Oreos. There is responsibility here. And it might be easier to abstain than to try to eat sweets in moderation.

Do smokers when they think about quitting start smoking extra cigarettes in preparation?