Is sugar bad?
Sugar and energy
Hypoglycemia (low blood
sugar, molasses, demerara sugar
Breast milk is rich in the sugar
called lactose. Although lactose is not as sweet as regular sugar, it
may well be the cause of many people’s lifetime love affair with
sweetness. It is also likely that our early ancestors discovered that
sweet-tasting foods were generally safe to eat while bitter foods were
often found to be poisonous.
Sugars occur in nature in many
different forms. Milk has lactose, sugar-cane has sucrose, fruit has
fructose, sprouting grains and malt have maltose, honey has a mixture
predominantly of fructose but with some glucose and sucrose also
present. In the context of their original food, any one of these
forms of sugar could be called ‘natural’.
However, the term ‘natural’ is
not applicable when sugars are extracted from their natural source and
concentrated to a level quite unlike their form in nature. It is
probably fair to say that the high level of refined sugar consumed
in most Western countries would be impossible to ingest from any sugar
source in its natural form. Sugar-cane, for example, has so much
fiber that no one could take in the huge amounts of sugar which are
possible by consuming refined sugar. Nor could we ever chew our way
through enough fruit to supply the quantity of fructose which we can
easily obtain from fruit juices or from extracted fructose. In nature,
most sugars come with dietary fiber - a natural obstacle to
overeating. The exceptions are honey and the sugar in milk. But, as
honey is hard to find in nature and milk contains less than 4 per cent
sugar, a high intake of these sugars is unlikely in practice.
Nutritionally, refined sugar has no
protein, minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids or dietary fiber.
Most foods with a lot of added sugar have little in the way of the
important nutrients. Some people argue that sugar increases
consumption of healthy foods such as breakfast cereals. But sugar also
makes fats taste nice. Most of us would not eat chocolate, cakes,
biscuits, pastries, ice-cream or desserts if sugar did not sweeten up
their greasy fats.
If used in addition to a healthy
diet, moderate quantities of sugar probably do little damage to most
people, providing they brush their teeth after eating sweet foods. In
many Western countries, annual consumption of sucrose is around 50 kg
per person, or almost a kilogram a week. Such a high average is not
Diabetics and those with raised
levels of triglycerides must keep sugar consumption low. It also makes
sense for those who are overweight to cut back on sugar. Several
committees have looked at the health effects of sugar and concluded
that, apart from its impact on dental decay, it is not solely
responsible for any major health problems. But, we must not minimize
the effect of sugar on teeth; this is in itself a major health
The major factor in eating sugar is
‘moderation’. Some recipes cannot be made without it but many
dishes can be made with much less of it - especially if they contain
the natural sweetness and flavor of fresh fruits.
Blood sugar, or blood glucose, is a
major energy source for all body cells. We do not need to eat refined
sugar because the body can easily convert all carbohydrates to
glucose. Proteins, either from food or from lean muscle tissue, can
also be broken down to glucose. Fats cannot be changed to glucose
although excess sugar or glucose in the blood can easily be changed
The body strives to maintain
blood-glucose levels within normal limits because the brain needs
glucose as fuel. Those with fluctuating blood-sugar levels or
hypoglycemia may have a slight delay in restoring high or low
blood-glucose levels to normal. In untreated diabetes, the level of
blood glucose rises because glucose cannot move into the cells in the
absence of insulin. If glucose ‘spills over’ into the urine, the
blood-glucose level may become dangerously low.
When blood-glucose levels drop, the
body mobilizes some glucose stored in the liver as liver glycogen. A
hunger pang is often the first signal of a slight drop. If you don’t
eat, the body quickly uses some of its stored liver glycogen to
replenish blood glucose and the hunger pang goes away for a while.
Once that blood sugar is used, you feel another hunger pang and the
process is repeated. Stores of liver glycogen are limited and after a
few hunger pangs the body starts to break down its lean muscle tissue.
This happens if you skip a meal or deliberately fast, have no food, or
have untreated diabetes. It makes sense to eat enough carbohydrate to
keep blood-glucose levels normal so that lean muscle tissue is not
used to replenish them.
Any carbohydrate can contribute to
blood glucose but it is best to eat those which are also suppliers of
the important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
Fruits, breads, cereals, grains and vegetables such as potatoes and
sweet corn are all good for keeping blood-glucose levels normal.
Sugar can also restore blood-sugar
levels but in the case of large quantities, the excess will be converted
into body fat.
(low blood sugar)
drop in blood sugar occurs in most people several times a day, usually
two to five hours after a meal. As mentioned above, this stimulates
appetite and we eat and restore blood-sugar levels. This is normal.
Hypoglycemia can also be reversed by breaking down some lean muscle
tissue and converting the protein to blood glucose.
Some people react to the normal
temporary ‘lows’ in their blood-glucose levels by feeling a sudden
loss of energy. This often happens about 4 p.m. Symptoms may include
irritability, inability to make decisions, headache, feelings of
shakiness, depression, poor concentration, increased sweating or
nausea. It is possible to ‘iron out’ blood-sugar-level
fluctuations by eating smaller meals with between-meal snacks of
high-fiber carbohydrate foods. Eating more lunch, or dividing lunch
into two portions and leaving some to eat halfway through the
afternoon, seems to help.
A similar set of the symptoms
ascribed to hypoglycemia is also blamed on Candida albicans, a
yeast-like fungus. Candida normally live on human skin and are found
in the mouth, vagina and intestinal tract. Almost everyone given a
‘candida test’ will have a positive result, just as we would all
test positive for the many bacteria and fungi with which we cohabit.
In itself, this does not represent a health problem nor a disease
Some believe candida multiply when
the diet contains sugar, white bread or any yeast-containing food
such as yeast extract, cheese. wine or beer. An anti-candida diet
which omits these foods is then prescribed. There is no scientific
evidence that this diet works. Where it seems to be effective, it
may be that the person was sensitive to some other food chemicals such
as amines which are present naturally in some foods. Or, the
expectation that the diet will work may give a positive psychological
result. The lack of refined sugar in the anti-candida diet presents no
problem since sugar is not essential, or even useful. However, some
of the other foods omitted can cause nutritional gaps in the daily
Apple-juice concentrate is a popular
substitute for sugar. It is simply another form of sugar. Unless
apple-juice concentrate gives a particular texture, there is no
nutritional reason to use it because the goodness of fruit - largely
its fiber - is gone.
people take glucose for ‘instant energy’, especially before
physical activity. The energy in muscles for physical activity depends
on the carbohydrates consumed at least 12 hours beforehand. Glucose
will raise blood-sugar levels but may also stimulate an outpouring of
insulin which will then cause them to fall again. Any excess glucose
can also be converted to body fat. Glucose is useful for people in
hospital after surgery. It is a waste of money for most other people
and certainly for athletes.
Honey is a natural sugar but nature
intended it for bees, not humans. The quantities of minerals and
vitamins in most honeys are ample for a small bee but insignificant in
a human diet. Honey is very sweet so it can sometimes be used in
smaller quantities than sugar to provide a sweet flavor.
molasses, demerara sugar
Molasses is the least refined form of
sugar from sugar-cane. It has some iron and calcium but there are few
data on how well these are absorbed. Raw sugar is quite highly refined
and has insignificant quantities of nutrients. Demerara sugar is a
raw sugar with molasses added to provide colour. Each of these sugars
may give particular flavors but they have no special health benefits.