Sugar consumption is on the rise. According to diet surveys conducted by the USDA, the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugar each day. Added sugar does not include sugar naturally found in milk and fruit. This is double the USDA's recommendation that the average person eat no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
Sugar is a general term describing a large number of organic compounds with varying degrees of sweetness. Common white table sugar is sucrose. These white crystals are refined from the cane or beet plant. Biochemically, sucrose is a disaccharide (two sugars) that is broken down into two simple sugars, glucose
and fructose. Glucose is the sugar carried in the blood stream to provide energy for the body- fructose is the primary sugar found in fruits and refined corn syrup. Other sugars found commonly in food are maltose (malt sugar) and lactose (milk sugar).
Although the body does require sugar (glucose), as this is the only fuel the brain can use, it is important to remember the physiology of digestion. The properly functioning human organism can produce all the glucose the brain needs through the digestion of whole, natural, unprocessed foods. Dr. John Yudkin of Queens College, London, states "all human nutritional needs can be met in full without having to take a single spoonful of white or brown or raw sugar."
Sugars, in moderation, are part of a healthful diet. Whether naturally occurring or added, sugars can make many nutritious foods even more appealing by adding taste, aroma, texture and color. Aside from their role in tooth decay, sugars in moderate amounts have not been directly linked to chronic health problems.
One may wonder what the problem is with indulging in something sweet occasionally. The answer is that, for most people, there is no problem. However, many people eat large quantities of sugar regularly, rather than occasionally.
Twenty teaspoons may sound like a lot of sugar to get through in one day. But consider the following:
- A 12 ounce Pepsi contains 10 teaspoons of sugar
- A 2 ounce package of candy contains 11 teaspoons of sugar
- 8 ounces of lemonade has nearly 7 teaspoons of sugar
- A cup of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes cereal provides more than 4 teaspoons of sugar.
It is surprising how fast it adds up. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having moderate amounts of sugar in your diet, there's a problem when high-sugar, low-nutrient food, such as soft drinks or candies, replaces more nutritious food such as fruit.
Sugar by any name is still sugar. It is important to read labels and identify items that should be avoided. Remember, ingredients are listed on the label in order of descending predominance, so if any sugar appears near the beginning of the list you know there is a lot of sugar present. Just as important, often many forms of sugar are listed on the label and that the total of the combined forms of sugar could add up to even more than the first ingredient listed.
Below is a "glossary" of sugar nomenclature which answers common questions about sugar, such as "what's the difference between raw sugar and sucrose?":
- Brown sugar is nutritionally equivalent to white sugar. Adding a little molasses to white sugar makes brown sugar.
- Cane crystals are made from evaporated cane juice and therefore contains all the nutrients in the original juice. This sugar is still 99.99% glucose.
- Corn syrup is nutritionally equivalent to white sugar; corn syrup is made when corn starch is broken down by acids, resulting in a clear, sweet liquid.
- Dextrose or Glucose is a component of table sugar. Linked end-to-end, hundreds of dextrose molecules make up the starch molecules, or complex carbohydrates, found in vegetables, beans and grains.
- Fructose or fruit sugar is the other component of table sugar. Because of its different chemical structure, fructose does not raise blood sugar levels as much as glucose and sucrose.
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contain 42-90% fructose; the remainder is dextrose. Because it is inexpensive to make, HFCS is now used in virtually all soft drinks in place of sucrose.
- Honey is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar. Honey is sweeter and more expensive. It raises blood sugar levels more than sucrose.
- Lactose is less sweet than sucrose, lactose is the sugar found naturally in milk and other dairy products. It is also one of the main factors responsible for milk intolerance.
- Malt sweetener is a thick syrup made from roasted, sprouted barley. It is not as sweet as most sweeteners and is one of the least objectionable, healthwise.
- Maple syrup One gallon of maple syrup is made by boiling down 40 gallons of sap from the sugar maple tree. It does contain a small amount of minerals that are found in the sap.
- Molasses is a thick, dark syrup made as a by-product of table sugar production. Blackstrap molasses is the only form of sugar that contains substantial amounts of nutrients: 1-tbs. has 14% of the RDA for calcium and 28% for iron. Lighter molasses have about one-third as much of the same nutrients.
- Raw or Turbinado sugar is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar, raw sugar is less refined, but of no greater value.
- Sucrose or white sugar is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Sucrose is composed of one fructose and one glucose molecule.
- Grape or other fruit juice concentrates appear to be healthier sweeteners, but are also highly processed and nutritionally empty.
- Sorbitol is an alcoholic sugar. Although less refined it causes gas in many people.
The bottom line is that while the names change, the nutritional value of most sugars used in processed foods is nearly identical. Sugar by any name is still devoid of nutrients, can be detrimental to your health and should be avoided. The sugar habit can be broken, but like alcohol or heroin, cold turkey is often the best method. Malt barley, fruit juice or dried fruit can substitute for sugar in any baking recipe. Remember, honey is just another form of sugar. Once you begin to avoid the refined sugars
, you will begin to appreciate the natural sweetness of fresh fruits and the subtle flavors of whole grains.
Causes and Development
The average American eats over 120 pounds of refined sweeteners per year. In fact, almost 25% of the total calories consumed are sugar. This means that roughly one-quarter of the caloric intake of most people in our society is empty calories that not only fail to provide food value, but actually rob the body of essential nutrients. Furthermore, this sugar is easily absorbed and pours into the bloodstream in amounts that the body is not geared to handle, causing wear and tear on the system as the body rushes to adjust its metabolic balance.
Of the 120 pounds of refined sweeteners ingested each year, 70% can be found in manufactured foods. For example, there is more sugar in some breakfast cereals than in candy. Today, sugar can be found not only in desserts and snack foods but also in such unlikely foods as canned vegetables and fish, most baby formulas and some baby foods. In many cases, sugar is hidden in foods labeled as corn sweeteners, dextrose, glucose
, honey, or high fructose corn syrup. Whatever the source of the sweetener, it is no longer associated with the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals found in the original sugar cane or beet plant from which the sugars were derived.
Fruits and whole grains (complex carbohydrates
) contain natural sugars and starches with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fiber. These wholesome foods break down slowly into small units of glucose
that enter the bloodstream through the small intestine
, where they are burned smoothly and gradually as the body requires the energy. Refined sugar
, on the other hand, has been stripped of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fiber that nature provided for proper digestion. These valuable substances, therefore, must come from somewhere else in the body to metabolize sugar properly. Co-enzymes, vitamins and minerals are supplied by the liver
that stores some of these substances. The depletion of the stored nutrients stresses the body and accelerates the degenerative processes. For this reason, sugar is described as "empty calories" and is, in reality, worse than eating nothing.
When the hypothalamus
in the brain registers excess glucose
, the biochemical mechanisms respond as if the glucose is the end product of the digestion of wholesome carbohydrates
and fats. Therefore, the hypothalamus prepares for an increase of glucose. However, whatever glucose was going to arrive has already been digested. Nevertheless, the pancreas
to metabolize the glucose it is "expecting." The glucose that was ingested was already utilized or bound in tissues unavailable to the body. The net result of this process is an immediate energy boost, only to be followed by a sudden drop of energy and fatigue
– usually worse than that experienced before consuming refined sugar
Dr. Yudkin also discovered that the increase of sugar in the bloodstream causes a sharp rise in adrenaline
, the "fight or flight" hormone, which increases the body's level of stress and therefore, reduces one's ability to function efficiently as well as to get the most enjoyment from life.
Signs and Symptoms
When the body undergoes a sugar overload, a number of symptoms can manifest themselves, including:Anxiety
; Congestion; Frequent colds; Migraines
; Headaches; Sinus
congestion; Backaches; Depression
; Skin itch; Bladder/bowel dysfunction; Diarrhea
; Sleepiness; Bloating
; Dizziness; Immune system dysfunction; Tension; Blurred vision; Earaches; Indigestion; Visual impairment; Bronchitis
; Joint/muscle pains; Watery eyes; Candida
; Fainting; Lacking mind control; Weight retention; Cold intolerance; Forgetfulness; Loss of short term memory
The brain continues to correlate adverse sugar reactions with these symptoms and a memory is implanted. In other words, the affected person will always experience an adverse reaction when exposed to sugar – no matter how tiny the amount of exposure.
Treatment and Prevention
There are more healthy sweeteners to choose from as listed above – malt barley or rice syrup, Sucanat or Florida cane crystal. But these all tend to affect the blood sugar levels similar to table sugar. Fructose is a better choice, as it does not affect the sugar-insulin mechanism.
There is one natural sweetener that is better still and it comes from a plant leaf in the chrysanthemum family. That substance is called Stevia. It is totally safe and has been used for centuries by the Indians of South America where it grows wild.
Stevia is an extraordinarily sweet herb – 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. It has a slight licorice-like flavor that most of us with a sweet tooth, and all the children love. For some people who only like the taste of real sugar it may take a little getting used to, but it has such important medicinal value that it is well worth learning to love.
Stevia is almost calorie-free, so weight watchers love it. It is ideal for children since it prevents cavities. Unlike sugar, it does not trigger a rise in blood sugar. You won't get a sudden burst of energy followed by fatigue
and a need for another "fix." Most importantly, it does not feed yeast
or other microorganisms, and it increases energy and aids digestion by stimulating the pancreas
Stevia is available in a number of forms, including a crude green powder, a white powder and a brownish liquid extract. It can be found in health food stores as a "Nutritional Supplement": The FDA prevents any claims as to its sweetness.
Researchers also suggest that sugar consumption is largely responsible for many cases of diabetes
, heart and degenerative diseases.