White, granulated sugar is exactly what it is advertised to be—a pure, white source of quick energy. It lacks vitamins, fats, minerals, proteins or any other nutrient except calories and carbohydrates. It gives quick energy because eating it stimulates the pancreas and adrenal glands into over-production of insulin. The insulin rushes in to control the sugar, then blood sugar plummets and you are left more tired than you were before.
Sugar is most commonly made from beets or sugar cane. To make cane sugar the beautiful white granular product we are so familiar with, the canes are crushed, shredded, and pressed through heavy rollers to extract the cane juice. The remaining cane fiber is used to make paper or wallboard.
Cane juice is clarified and concentrated by boiling it into a thick syrup. It is then poured into a basket that spins, creating a force that crystalizes some of the syrup. The liquid that doesn’t crystalize, is thrown out through the holes in the basket. This liquid is molasses.
The crystals are known as raw sugar. For white granular sugar, the crystals are washed and dissolved into a water syrup. It is then filtered to remove impurities (including any vitamins or minerals) and color. The sugar is put into vacuum pans and crystalized by boiling, washing. and spinning in a centrifuge machine. This process is repeated until the sugar is white and granular. It is then dried, screened and packaged. Beets undergo a similar process to create beet sugar.
According to Septhan Guyenet and Jeremy Landen, Whole Health Source, sugar consumption in the United States went from around 10 pounds per person a year in 1822, to well over 100 pounds per person annually in 2005.
Although less table sugar is being used, sugar is in nearly every processed food. It may be listed as sugar, sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, fructose or natural flavoring. Sugar is even an ingredient in some salt!
Sugar in large quantities throws the body into insulin shock and robs it of essential vitamins and minerals. Sugar has been linked with diabetes, hypoglycemia, heart disease, migraine headaches, allergies, hyperactive children, mental retardation, arthritis and rheumatoid conditions, tooth decay and obesity. But because it tastes good, billions of people all over the world are gobbling it up in greater and greater quantities. A top culprit in sugar content is soft drinks. A 12-ounce A&W Root Beer has 46.5 grams of sugar. Inca Kola has 52 grams of sugar per 16 ounces. Moutain Dew is 47 grams of sugar per 12 ounces. Cocal Cola Classic is 39 grams per 12 ounces. See Energy Fiend for sugar content in other sodas.
Sugar does its damage so slowly that the victim rarely becomes aware of it until it is too late to reverse the harm. The 100+ pounds of sugar a year per person translates into more than 30 teaspoons of sugar per day for each person in the United States. But, there are many people who eat little or no sugar at all. This means that the average American may be eating closer to 250 to 300 pounds per year. The following illustrates how easy it is to eat more than the average amount of sugar each day.
A typical daily diet might consist of:
A glass of sweetened canned or frozen juice; cereal that is either pre-sweetened or sugared at the table; toast, muffins or waffles with jam, jelly, or maple flavored syrup; coffee or tea with sugar or and non-dairy creamer.
Breakfast: About 10 teaspoons of sugar
A doughnut or Danish pastry washed down by a sweetened cup of coffee or tea.
Midmorning snack: About 6 teaspoons of sugar
Canned vegetable soup, a ham sandwich with pickle, followed by apple pie and soft drink, all of which contain sugar.
Lunch: About 8 teaspoons of sugar
MID AFTERNOON SNACK:
A candy bar or doughnut.
Mid afternoon snack: About 16 teaspoons sugar
More sugar than ever may be consumed. A before dinner cocktail, salad with dressing, meat with canned or dry gravy mix, hot rolls or biscuits, and dessert.
Dinner: About 14 teaspoons sugar
TOTAL: 80 TEASPOONS SUGAR
Up to eighty teaspoons of sugar can easily be eaten in a day. This is a conservative figure for it doesn’t include treats such as milkshakes, sundaes, ice cream cones, energy bars, snack cookies, or sodas.
It is difficult to avoid sugar if you eat the typical western diet because it is in almost everything — in copious quantities. Sugar is consumed in coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, soft drinks, ice cream, breads, cakes, candy, cookies, cereals, salad dressings, jams, jellies, sandwich spreads, luncheon meats, sausage, hot dogs, canned soups, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, frozen dinners, cheeses, snack chips, yogurt, juices, ketchup, peanut butter, boxed dinners and helpers, tobacco, medicines, toothpaste, mouthwash, vitamins pickles, alcohol, chewing gum, and on and on!
Experiments have shown that sugar is addicting. There have been a lot of studies on this. One article in Psychology Today spells it out pretty clearly, as does Princeton University.
Even when sugar is eaten with a healthy diet the extra 450 to 500 calories a day are stored as fat. In addition, sugars increase triglycerides in the blood. Triglycerides are a form of fat found in the blood that provides us with energy. A high sugar diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, can lead to heart problems.
The mineral chromium has been found to be an important factor in metabolizing sugar. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17506119 for information on one study. Chromium supplements have proven helpful to some diabetics and hypoglycemics and it reduced blood cholesterol levels in experimental animals. Refined sugar has almost no chromium (3 parts per billion). Perhaps this is one of the reasons the body doesn’t use it well.
An extremely refined carbohydrate, sugar disrupts your metabolic system. Sugar gives energy without nutrition. To utilize large doses of sugar and restore chemical balance, your body robs its cells of calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium and possibly chromium. In the end the pancreas and adrenal glands are exhausted from overwork.
If your body is already in a state of crises because of poor diet, it may not be able to convert sugar into energy, so lactic acid residues accumulate in the brain and nervous system. When this happens, oxygen cannot get to those cells and they die. There are current studies showing that a diet high in sugar may be one cause of Alzheimer’s. Some researchers are labeling Alzheimer’s Diabetes type 3 and stating that refined sugar has a role in creating it. Here is an interesting article talking about it: http://olsonnd.com/the-alzheimers-and-sugar-connection
Complex carbohydrates like those in whole foods (potatoes, brown rice, vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, seeds) are digested, converted to glucose and carried through the bloodstream to the pancreas. The pancreas then produces insulin which creates energy. Excess complex sugar is stored in the liver. When your body becomes hungry (needs fuel), the level of sugar in the body drops to restore balance. Next, the liver converts some of its stored sugar (glycogen) back into glucose to be carried by the bloodstream.
With refined sugar there is no “digesting.” It goes straight into the bloodstream. Over the course of human development, we humans have developed the ability to handle diluted sugars like complex carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables. Using the body as a refined carbohydrate garbage dump causes enormous distress. Sugar may be one of the leading causes (along with alcohol, tobacco, and stress) of high blood cholesterol and triglycerides.
Another serious problem with sugar is its effect on teeth (http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/548toothdecay.html). Cavity causing mouth bacteria multiply like an explosion in the presence of sugar. They produce an acid that eats into teeth. Avoiding refined sugar along with limiting other refined carbohydrates such as white flour, will almost eliminate tooth decay.
Most prehistoric people and societies cut off from modern dietary choices don’t have cavity problems. See http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/05/28/2244461.htm for a good discussion on this. As long as the contemporary basic cultures consume their traditional diets, they are free of most dental and medical problems. However, as soon as they begin to eat a western diet of highly refined carbohydrates, they become victims of rampant tooth decay, tuberculosis, dental abscesses, and in succeeding generations, narrowing of the face, crowded teeth, mouth breathing, cancer, club foot, birth defects, painful childbirth, increased crime and arthritis.
Other Kinds of Refined Sugar
Sugars come in more than one form and although there are beliefs about “natural” sugars being better for us, this notion has been challenged by some researchers.
Maple syrup has some nutrients but it lacks fiber. Maple syrup is the boiled sap of sugar maple trees, so it is a refined product. Because it is expensive, some manufacturers use formaldehyde pellets in the maple tree tap holes to kill the bacteria which retards the flow of sap. The formaldehyde dissolves slowly into the sap.
Maple syrup producers are not required to list formaldehyde on the product label. However, Vermont has banned its use. Formaldehyde harms the trees by diminishing their ability to use their natural bacteria to heal the tap hole wounds. If this bacteria is killed by formaldehyde the trees are vulnerable to disease. Many manufacturers will state on the product label if it is free from formaldehyde.
Maple syrup has an almost cult-like appeal to some health advocates. Unlike refined cane or beet sugar, maple syrup has some nutrients. It is quite complex. It contains mostly carbohydrates, but also choline, pantothenic acid, niacin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. See http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5602/2 for a more detailed list.
The arguments both for and against honey have been raging for a long time with no sign of agreement from either side. Honey is about 80% simple sugars (fructose and glucose) and about 20% vitamins and minerals, with some trace elements. Darker honey is higher in nutrients than the popular light golden variety. One tablespoon of honey has about 64 calories, 17.3 grams carbohydrates, .1 gram protein, .002 mg B1, .014 mg B2, .004 mg B6, .001 mg folic acid, .1 mg niacin, .04 mg pantothenic acid, 1 mg sodium, 1 mg phosphorous, 11 mg potassium, 1 mg calcium, .1 mg iron, .6 mg magnesium, .008 mg copper, .006 mg manganese, .016 mg zinc. Some nutrition experts say that raw, unfiltered, comb honey has beneficial elements unknown to traditional science. See http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5568/2 for more details on the nutrients in honey.
Some honey advocates claim that natural, wild honey is a miracle food. Pure, untreated honey is cloudy, dark gold or amber, with a residue of pollen at the bottom of the jar. Because bees are extremely sensitive to pesticides, infected bees usually die before reaching the hive. This means that honey is relatively free of toxic poisons. Unfortunately pesticides are creating a crisis in the bee population.
According to Dr. D.C. Jarvis who wrote “Folk Medicine” honey is the sweetener easiest on the kidneys. His research recorded hay fever and sinusitis cures using natural honey. The easy effect on the kidneys is probably because it is digested slowly into the system (raw honey only). The hay fever cures may be because the pollen in the honey causes desensitization. The late Dr. Paavo Airola said that honey increases calcium retention in the body, prevents nutritional anemia, is good for kidney and liver disorders, colds, poor blood circulation, and complexion problems.
Jars of honey found in Egyptian tombs have been opened and the honey was as good as new. Honey contains propolis (an antibiotic) that will help heal a cut or wound and soothe some rashes. Some famous beauties claim honey as a facial treatment will help keep a youthful skin. This is probably because honey attracts moisture and kills bacteria. Recently researchers have investigated claims by beekeepers that honey and bee stings are helpful in curing arthritis. See http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=50602 for a good discussion of this.
One point on which honey many advocates agree is that the honey is only good from hives where bees have been allowed to live naturally, and not robbed of all their honey then fed sugar-water all winter. The honey you eat or use should be unheated, unfiltered, and kept at room temperature. According to some honey-ites, honey is better when left in the comb.
Because of honey’s moisture attracting properties, it helps baked foods retain freshness. Honey is sweeter than sugar so when using it in cooking, substitute 1/2 to 3/4 cups honey to 1 cup sugar and reduce liquid ingredients slightly.
Honey protagonists claim that honey is just liquid sugar with little food value, and that all honeys, natural or adulterated, are identical. Who is right? Probably no one can answer that. Health conscious people will usually opt for nature-made over human-tampered food, but there is no scientific proof either way about honey.
Vegetarians who are ethically motivated may want to be careful. Some honey producers rob their hives of honey, then kill the colonies, restocking each season with new bees.
Some vegans will not eat honey because it is an animal product.
Molasses is a by-product of sugar refining. Blackstrap is the strongest tasting and contains the most nutrients. Barbados molasses is made for its own sake rather than taken from sugar refining left-overs. It is lighter and mellower in taste than the other types of molasses and slightly more nutritious. One tablespoon blackstrap molasses contains about 3.2 mg iron, a few B vitamins and small amounts of sodium, calcium, and potassium.
Some people say that molasses is as bad for the body as refined sugar, while others claim that it is a miracle-food with healing properties. Decide for yourself whether your body can use molasses in a positive way. Here is a good discussion of molasses’ health benefits http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?dbid=118&tname=foodspice
Brown sugar is simply white refined sugar with a little molasses added. It is nearly as bad for you as regular, white sugar.
Raw sugar, turbanado sugar, unrefined sugar are sugars that have not been completely stripped of their molasses.
NUTRITION COMPARISON ONE CUP
This is a compilation from a variety of sources and an approximation of the nutrients found in the following sugars. The nutrients will vary by season, processing method, geographical location for the raw materials, farming methods, and brand.
So after all that, I have to confess that I don’t live sugar-free. I indulge sometimes in ice cream or a slice of really good pie, although I did lead a sugar-free life for about eight years. It wasn’t easy. Now I am a little more tolerant but am a fanatic label reader.
The goal is not to live a sugar-deprived life. As Yoda might say, no sweets leads to stress. Stress leads to sickness. Sickness leads to . . . well you get the idea.
In a future blog, I will tackle the sugar substitute issue. That is a really interesting topic. Think diet sodas help you keep the weight off? According to a lot of experts, they only make us fatter.
For more on good eating, go to anitasrealfood.com.