Let's have gluten, sugar, PUFAs, and other assorted neolethal ingredients battle it out. So which is the worst?
My vote goes for gluten with PUFA's running a close second. At least that is the order that they punish me in.
PUFA because there is no upside. A fresh-baked loaf of bread can be heavenly. We can get pleasure from a sweet treat. But what is the upside of PUFAs???? People lose their health so they can eat disgusting margarine and GMO soybean oil??? EPIC FAIL
This may sound like a flippant answer, but I would say that the one ingredient (or factor) which leads to the most problems in the modern world is convenience.
PUFA trans-fat and sugar. I don't think traditionally prepared wheat in normal quantities is a huge problem for some populations. It's worse for others of course. But industrial oils and sugar aren't good for anyone.
I was born in 1983 and hadn't tasted real butter until recently. I shudder at the thought of all the tubs of margarine I ate, all the hydrogenated soybean oil mayo and hydrogenated peanut butter. Every day I had gobs of all three. When I was 22 I had an ekg, ultrasound and heart monitor because I had a heart murmur and chest pain (docs concluded it was fine, but it still freaked me and my mom out).
Millions of people like my parents raised their kids on the stuff thinking they were doing the best for their health. And its the reason why I will never support any government "healthy eating" efforts, even if I ultimately agree, like the soda tax. I am of Mexican and Native American ancestry and I want to scream when I think about how many of my relatives, friends and community members have had their lives cut short as a direct result of the government meddling/guidelines. Just about everyone in my family over age 40 has diabetes and many younger ones as well.
Great question! My vote is for yellow #6, which makes Mountain Dew harmful. But for real, I'm betting against gluten, and putting money on either PUFA or sugar. Gluten can be terrible for some, can creep up on others as they age, and can seem to have no clinical effect on others. PUFA affects the body's hormonal milieu, and sugar does nothing good and is addictive as crack. I'm eating a bar of 86% chocolate right now and I have to use all my willpower to keep some for tomorrow.
From what I have read, the "diseases of civilization" really ramped up when sugar became available to the masses. Rich men's diseases like gout and obesity became common after the 1700s saw sugar prices drop to the point where it became more than a rare treat for most people.
It's hard to overconsume sugar in its natural state (in fruit or even in the cane), but once refined, it is a scourge.