|Photo Courtesy of WebMD|
Sugars. Oh how those little granules, powders, and syrups cause such a ruckus. Folks abhor them, call them evil, blame every pound they have on it, blame ADHD on it, and so on.
But is sugar really that bad?
First, let's define what sugar really is, and what it isn't.
Sugar comes from plant material, mostly from sugarcane and sugar beets. The earliest mention of sugar was found in Chinese manuscripts dating back to the 8th century B.C. that said that sugarcane was used in India at that time. Move ahead a few hundred years, and you find the Crusaders bringing the "sweet salts" home from the Holy Land, and since it was not a natural growing entity, it was a rarity and in turn made traders who had sugar as a commodity rather wealthy. The cane came to the "new world" by way of the Governor of the Canary Islands sending cuttings with Christopher Columbus.
Now that we have the very very basic history, what kinds of sugar are there really?
First, there are monosaccarides. These are also known as fructose, glucose, and galactose. These are very simply sugars, found in fruits. Fructose is made into high fructose syrup in manufacturing, and when used from corn, you derive corn syrup. It is also found in root crops, and is a part of what we know as table sugar. Galactose is one of the properties that help in defining blood groups when testing red blood cells.
Disaccharides covers the group of sugars called sucrose, lactose, and maltose. Sucrose is made by one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. It is found in root crops such as carrots and sugar beets, as well as the stems of sugarcane. Maltose is found in grains such as barley, which is processed into malt. Lactose is a natural sugar in milk, and is broken down by lactase enzyme. Most kids have this enzyme, and adults who do not are considered lactose intolerant.
What happens if someone uses too much sugar?
The possibility of obesity, exacerbating diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and so on.
In studies with animals and people by Kimber Stanhope of the University of California Davis and other researchers, excess fructose consumption has increased fat production, especially in the liver, and raised levels of circulating triglycerides, which are a risk factor for clogged arteries and cardiovascular disease. Some research has linked a fatty liver to insulin resistance—a condition in which cells become far less responsive to insulin than usual, exhausting the pancreas until it loses the ability to properly regulate blood glucose levels.
Do you get these diseases without the use of sugar? Yes. Obesity, probably not, but diabetes and cardiac problems also are able to run in families, and have other factors beyond your basic sugar.
There are benefits to sugar, that one may not think about.
Benefits of Sugar:
Calorie content – Sugar has a high calorie content that will give your body energy that you lack. However, all that energy is short lived and it can only give your short bust of increased productivity. Because sugar contains four calories per gram, but it lacks nutritious value (no dietary fibers) and because of that sugar is only an added ingredient in many meals.
Diabetes – Scientists have proven that diabetes is a genetic condition that is created from the moment we are born. Eating bad food and lots of sweets and fats can only decrease the efficiency of the pancreas, but in moderate use there are no health risks.
On a more personal note, hubby has mentioned a time or two about how he and his family have had pure cane cut off the hunk (non processed, right off the cane) while in Little Havana from street vendors selling cafe cubana. This unprocessed sugar cane had the most mineral and nutrients than any of the processed powders we find on the market, and a more heady flavor. It would be a nice thing to have pure cane non processed to try here in middle America!
Minerals and nutrients – Sugars in their structure have ingredients that are passed to them from their natural sources, sugarcanes or beet. Elements such as phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium will not be greatly present in the industrially refined sugar.
Is sugar evil?
No. Sugar can be used for a sweet treat on a special occasion, a quick pick me up for a diabetic who is hypoglycemic, and has other uses when used in manufacturing that are not necessarily food related. It is in itself a means of gaining energy. How one uses it makes it good or evil, like how one uses a car, money, influence, and so on. In moderation, or small amounts, sugar will not cause obesity, diabetes, and so on. The important thing is to not go overboard with the amount of sugar one eats.
Avoiding sugar is not a panacea, though. A healthy diet is about so much more than refusing that second sugar cube and keeping the cookies out of reach or hidden in the cupboard. What about all the excess fat in our diet, so much of which is paired with sugar and contributes to heart disease? What about bad cholesterol and salt? “If someone is gaining weight, they should look to sugars as a place to cut back,” says Sievenpiper, “but there’s a misguided belief that if we just go after sugars we will fix obesity—obesity is more complex than that. Clinically, there are some people who come in drinking way too much soda and sweet beverages, but most people are just overconsuming in general.” Then there’s all the stuff we really should eat more of: whole grains; fruits and veggies; fish; lean protein. But wait, we can’t stop there: a balanced diet is only one component of a healthy lifestyle. We need to exercise too—to get our hearts pumping, strengthen our muscles and bones and maintain flexibility. Exercising, favoring whole foods over processed ones and eating less overall sounds too obvious, too simplistic, but it is actually a far more nuanced approach to good health than vilifying a single molecule in our diet—an approach that fits the data. Americans have continued to consume more and more total calories each year—average daily intake increased by 530 calories between 1970 and 2000—while simultaneously becoming less and less physically active. Here’s the true bitter truth: Yes, most of us should make an effort to eat less sugar—but if we are really committed to staying healthy, we’ll have to do a lot more than that.
Basic information found at: Sugar History, Wikipedia, Scientific American
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