Jason Ryder, chief technology officer of Joywell Foods, says sugar is the body’s petroleum — and we can do better
The world is having an important conversation about climate change and the future of energy consumption. Simply put, we can’t keep burning fossil fuels at our current pace without altering the earth’s temperature disastrously and irreversibly.
Our relationship with petroleum, as it turns out, is a lot like our relationship with sugar and other sweeteners. What do I mean by that? Both petroleum and sweeteners are ubiquitous in today’s society — cheap and recklessly abundant. And you can get both automotive and human fuels during one quick stop at the convenience store. Fill up your tank and buy a 64-ounce (1.8 litres) soda containing 1,000 empty calories while you wait.
We know that each tankful of gasoline that we burn will pump another cloud of heat, trapping carbon dioxide gas into the air, warming the planet and causing more damage to people, property and natural systems around the globe. We know we can’t keep doing this, so we look to renewable, clean energy to take us through the next century without sacrificing the convenience and mobility we enjoy today.
It’s time to have a similar conversation around sugar, which is creating an existential threat of its own, but on a much more personal scale. In the US, obesity is steadily rising, with more than 40% of people now considered obese. Think about that for a minute – four in ten of US citizens have a preventable condition that leads to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and premature death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And sweeteners, which are pumped into nearly everything we eat, are a major driver of obesity.
Unlike climate change, where many small individual actions are needed to drive big improvements, each of us has the power to protect ourselves from unhealthy foods most of the time.
Yes, it can be difficult to eat right on a commercial airline flight with nothing but free cookies. It’s inconvenient to pack your own healthy foods everywhere. But it’s a lot more convenient than installing solar panels on your house to power your new electric car.
That’s not meant to knock solar power. Clean energy is essential for solving climate change, and we will need all the solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energy we can get. But it won’t do us much good to roll back global warming if we’re too sick to enjoy it.
To fight obesity and its deadly consequences, we need more ‘clean’ fuel for humans, food that powers our bodies without polluting them. That’s our mission at Joywell Foods — creating sweeteners from plant proteins that taste great without triggering negative health effects caused by conventional sweeteners.
If sugar is the body’s petroleum, providing short-term energy that creates long-term problems, then plant proteins can help reduce our overall sugar footprint, the same way clean energy shrinks our carbon footprint.
Just as we can fight climate change by switching to renewable fuels, we can stop the relentless rise of obesity by replacing sugar with sweet plant-based flavourings that don’t harm our bodies.
About the author
Jason Ryder, co-founder and chief technology officer of Joywell Foods, is a bioprocess engineer, entrepreneur, and educator with experience in process and product development, engineering design, scale-up, and commercialisation in the industrial biotech and foodtech sectors.
His professional work has ranged from small molecules to proteins with applications spanning sustainable chemicals, fuels, materials, and foods.
Date published: 13 May 2021