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ALL ABOUT SUGAR

Natural?
Is sugar bad?
Sugar and energy
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Candida
Other sugars
Glucose
Honey
Raw sugar, molasses, demerara sugar


Natural?

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.
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Is sugar bad?

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 ‘moderate’.

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 problem.

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.
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Sugar and energy

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 to fat.

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.
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Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

A 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.
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Candida

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 condition.

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 diet.
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Other sugars

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.
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Glucose

Some 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.
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Honey

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.
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Raw sugar, 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.
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