Sugar. We all love it. Whether we realize it or not, we are addicted to it. It’s in everything we eat, and if that was not enough, we still add it to our foods to sweeten the taste. We only have to cut it out of our diet to realize just how reliant we are upon it. Modern Western diets are flooded with sugar – even so-called low-fat foods contain sugar to sweeten their appeal. The biggest culprits are processed foods. In our fast-paced society where convenience and cost is paramount, processed foods are the easiest (and most often cheapest) forms of foods to eat. Just walk around your local grocery store and you’re sure to find that at least 80% of the food on sale is processed:
- Pasta & Pizzas
- TV/Instant meals
- Processed meats (hot-dogs, ham, sausages)
- Canned foods
- Frozen foods (pies, ice-cream)
- Frozen vegetables
- White Flour
- White rice
- Energy bars
- Condiments (ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce)
- Soft drinks
- Cake mixes
The list goes on……………..
Sugar, in its raw natural form (sugar cane) is actually not bad at all. It is high in fibre and an excellent source of energy, if eaten raw. However, most of us only get to eat sugar in its processed form, after it has been through the refinery and had numerous chemicals added to it.
So how is sugar actually affecting us? Well firstly, it’s important to understand what it is we are actually eating. The sugar we consume can be divided into two groups:
Glucose and Sucrose/High Fructose Corn Syrup.
A sugar that is actually good for us, as it converts food into energy. Glucose causes the pancreas to produce insulin. Due to the presence of insulin and leptin, the brain becomes aware of the amount of glucose in the body, and will know when you are full and it is time to stop. Even though glucose is a good sugar, attention should still be paid as to the amounts consumed and like everything else it should form part of a balanced diet. The best sources of glucose are grains, fruits and vegetables, but it is also found in refined sugar foods such as those on the list mentioned earlier in this article.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)/Sucrose
HFCS and Sucrose contain high levels of fructose, which only be metabolized by the liver. The brain recognizes fructose in such a way that it cannot monitor how much you consume. Non-diet fizzy drinks are probably the most highly consumed form of fructose. Fizzy drinkers don’t feel full, and thus keep consuming…raising their fructose levels to unacceptable levels. Fructose raises uric acid in the body, which causes high blood pressure. This simple, yet little-known truth about fructose is one of our society’s leading cause of obesity.
But honey’s OK, right?
Well, yes and no. Honey is as bad as sugar when it comes to how it is processed by the body. (It also decays teeth faster than sugar!) Both contain glucose and fructose, and the caloric value is the same, so you’re no better off. Besides, processed honey is pasteurized to make it more accessible to the consumer, which dramatically affects its nutritional value. Raw honey contains all the enzymes, vitamins and minerals that are lost in the pasteurization and heating of normal, processed honey. So the golden rule, as always: Eat raw whenever possible!
Some sugar facts:
- The average American consumes 2-3 pounds of sugar each week – compared to 5 pounds per person, per year, at the turn of the century! (The rest of the world is slowly catching up).
- Heart disease is now the world’s number one killer. Before 1910 it was extremely rare. Is there a connection?
- Sugar prevents the body from absorbing calcium properly, resulting in tooth decay, which is probably why dentistry is a $50billion per year practice!
- Sugar is linked to 60 disorders; including diabetes, indigestion, prostate cancer, glaucoma, edema, arthritis, and even early aging of the skin. But most notably, it is considered the number one cause of obesity. It’s not the amount of food you eat; it’s what you eat that causes obesity. It is definitely safe to say that most food in the Western world contains high levels of refined sugar; and with obesity levels reaching epic numbers, the link is obvious.
- Sugar has been linked to ADHD in children, the symptoms of which are dramatically reduced (or disappear entirely) when sugar is cut from the diet. However, this is largely overlooked in favour of unnecessary medication prescriptions so damaging to the health of children it doesn’t even bear considering.
So is there any good news?
Believe it or not, there is a form of sugar that is beneficial for your health, and it is quite often dismissed in favour of artificial sweeteners (which are even worse for you than sugar!). So what is it?
Probably not something most people would consider buying (I used to think it was exclusively horse food!) but Molasses is actually cane sugar’s purest and healthiest contribution to the world of nutrition. Darker, sweeter, and thicker than honey (the darker, the less sugar it contains), Molasses is what remains after sugar is extracted from sugar cane. Blackstrap Molasses is packed with iron and calcium, and is easily digested.
It is still sugar at the end of the day, so it should be eaten in moderation. Try some on porridge for a tasty alternative to processed table sugar, or dissolve some in hot water for a sweet drink that curbs those dessert cravings.
And last but least……Fruit
Many people make the mistake of avoiding fruit because of its sugar content, but this is unnecessary. Fibre in fruit allows the brain to receive the message when you are full, so you are unlikely to overeat to the point where your fructose levels are too high. It is the healthiest way to absorb a healthy amount of natural sugars for the body without over-indulging. Just as Nature intended!