Sugar in the News - How a Spice Changed our World & Health


The Rise of Sugar (White Gold)

According to the latest data, sugarcane is the world’s third most valuable crop after cereals and rice, and occupies 26,942,686 hectares of land across the globe. Its main output – apart from commercial profits – is a global public health crisis, which has been centuries in the making.

The first chemically refined sugar appeared on the scene in India about 2,500 years ago. From there, the technique spread east towards China, and west towards Persia and the early Islamic worlds, eventually reaching the Mediterranean in the 13th century. Throughout the Middle Ages, it was considered a rare and expensive spice, rather than an everyday condiment. The first sugar was recorded in England in 1099 and is further recorded being available in London at "two shillings a pound" in 1319 AD. This equates to about US$100 per kilo at today's prices so it was very much a luxury.

Governments recognized the vast profits to be made from sugar and taxed it highly. In Britain for instance, sugar tax in 1781 totaled £326,000, a figure that had grown by 1815 to £3,000,000. This situation was to stay until 1874 when the British government, under Prime Minister Gladstone, abolished the tax and brought sugar prices within the means of the ordinary citizen

This food – which nobody needed, but everyone craved – drove the formation of the modern of the world. There was a huge demand for labor to cultivate the massive sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. This need was met by a transatlantic slave trade and great fortunes were made in the production, importation, and refining of "white Gold".  History of sugar manufacture changed forever in late 18th century when German scientists identified sucrose in beet root. Production of sugar from beet did not properly start however until Napoleonic wars, when trade blockades forced Napoleon to start local production of sugar, managing eventually to produce from beet 30% of European sugar.

In many ways, the story of sugar and tobacco are closely aligned. Both products were initially produced through slave labor, and were originally seen to be beneficial to health. And although both sugar and tobacco have ancient origins, it was their sudden, mass consumption from the mid-17th century onward that created the health risks we associate with them today. And while tobacco is widely acknowledged to be addictive, sugar can also drive behavioral responses that are indistinguishable from addiction.

In 2013, sugar crops made up 6.2% of world’s agricultural yield and 9.4% of its total monetary value. But many postulate that the fantastic economic growth of the 18th century owed much of its strength on the foundation of a burgeoning sugar trade.

Excerpted from: "A history of sugar – the food nobody needs, but everyone craves", The Conversation, October 30, 2015,  -Professor in Archaeology, University of Bristol,  - Professor and Chair of Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Houston,  - Senior Teaching Fellow in Physiology, University of Bristol

Where we add sugar to food

All sugar, whether natural or processed, is a type of simple carbohydrate your body uses for energy. Fruits, vegetables and dairy foods naturally contain sugar.

"Added sugars" are the sugars and syrups added to foods during processing. Desserts, sodas, and energy and sports drinks are the top sources of added sugars for most Americans, but many other foods contain added sugars.

Sweetness has an almost universal appeal. So adding sugar to processed foods makes them more appetizing. But sugar is also added to foods because it:

  • Gives baked goods flavor, texture and color
  • Helps preserve foods, such as jams and jellies
  • Fuels fermentation, which enables bread to rise
  • Serves as a bulking agent in baked goods and ice cream
  • Balances the acidity of foods containing vinegar and tomatoes

Over 75% of foods purchased in the U.S. contain added sugars From the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s, US consumption of added sugars increased by 35%, More recent studies suggest that, through 1990 to 2008, added sugar intake in adults and children in the US is decreasing - primarily due to reduced soft drink consumption. Soft drinks are the primary source of added sugars. The love affair has been relatively brief as the first soft drink, Coca Cola was not introduced until 1886.

Some sources of added sugars are easy to spot, such as:

  • Sugary beverages (soda, fruit punch, sweet coffee and energy drinks)
  • Sugary cereal
  • Candy and chocolates
  • Flavored yogurt
  • Baked goods such as cakes, pastries and cookies

However, added sugars can hide in some surprising places, including:

  • Whole-grain cereals and granola
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Frozen foods
  • Granola bars, protein bars and cereal bars
  • Pasta sauce
  • Dried fruit, canned fruit, applesauce and fruit juices
  • Baby food
  • Barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressing and other condiments

 The American Heart Association advises a strict limit for added sugars — no more than 100 calories a day for most women and no more than 150 calories a day for most men. That's about 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 9 for men. One teaspoon of sugar has about 16 calories.

To put this into perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda has about 160 calories, or about 10 teaspoons, of sugar.

Unfortunately, U.S. adults get 13 percent of their total daily calories from added sugars, which exceeds the recommendations.

Excerpted from: Hedonic Eating: How the Pleasure of Food Affects Our Brains and Behavior;edited by Nicole M. Avena

How to reduce added sugar and maintain flavor

    Making a few adjustments to your diet can help you cut down on unnecessary sugar consumption:

    • Reduce the sugar you add to hot drinks. Do so gradually to give your taste buds time to adjust. Try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon to cappuccino or hot chocolate, cinnamon helps stabilise blood sugar levels and adds flavour without the sweetness.
    • Avoid low-fat 'diet' foods which tend to be high in sugars. Instead have smaller portions of the regular versions.
    • Be wary of 'sugar-free' foods. These often contain synthetic sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin and aspartame. Although these taste sweet, they don't help curb a sweet tooth so they tend to send confusing messages to the brain, which can lead to over-eating.
    • Balance your carb intake with lean protein like fish, chicken and turkey - protein foods slow stomach emptying, which helps manage cravings.
    • Swap white bread, rice and pasta for wholegrain versions like oats, granary and wholemeal breads, brown rice and pasta.
    • Reduce the sugar in recipes and add spices to boost flavour and taste. (See Below)
    • Stick to one glass of fruit juice a day (and dilute it) and keep sweet soft drinks and alcohol for the weekends. Enjoy herbal teas or water with slices of citrus fruits for flavouring.
    • For a pick me up, have a piece of whole fruit with a handful of nuts or a small tub of plain yogurt. Both contain protein which helps balance blood sugar and energy levels.
    Excerpted from: The truth about sugar, BBC Good Food,By Kerry Torrens - Nutritional therapist

    Cooking with less Sugar

    If reduceing added sugar makes health sense, how can we make food that is still enjoyable?

    As a general rule you can reduce sugar as much as 25 or 33% without starting a science project (and having to add applesauce and change lots of other stuff to make it work), but it’s best to start with a less drastic change and work your way to your own sweet spot: the point where you still like the results! Do this by first cutting 10 or 15% of the sugar, then continue until you start not liking your results.

    For fruit desserts, consider going in the opposite direction—adding instead of subtracting. "I add sugar to the pie or galette filling about a tablespoon at a time, tasting as I go until the fruit tastes like the best version of itself. And if the resulting pies are too tart, just add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to balance it out!”, one chef states.

    Excerpted from: What Experts Know About Reducing Sugar in Baking Recipes Food 52,  by • February 16, 2016
    • Stevia
    • Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, etc.)
    • Fruit puree (but beware, this is still fructose, and see "Tips")
    • Syrups, such as maple, rice or agave (agave syrup is very high in fructose and may not be a suitable substitute)
    • Honey
    • Artificial sweeteners (you'll need to know if they can be baked though)
    • Fresh fruit, berries, or sweet vegetables.

    Increase the flour. Use this to make up the missed volume of sugar. For most recipes this will work but you do need to experiment.

    Be careful of reducing sugar in recipes using yeast. Yeast requires the sugar to activate. If you can discern how much sugar the yeast needs and set that aside and only fiddle with the rest of the sugar, that's ideal. If not, experiment with daring, and you'll discover by trial and error what does and does not work.

    Reconsider any sugar based toppings for baked goods. Icing sugar, granular sugar, fine sugar, etc., are all still sugar and adding them to your freshly baked goods can increase the sugar overload. Find topping substitutes that are healthy, such as fresh fruit, spices like cinnamon, or sugar-free grated chocolate. Or why not just leave it bare?

    "I recommend using fruits and vegetables that are naturally sweet when baking or cooking," said Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RDN, CSSD, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Examples include bananas, sweet potatoes and apples. You can add a mashed banana to your oatmeal in the morning and microwave it for a minute, which adds sweetness to the oatmeal."

    "For beverages, I recommend water, milk, unsweetened tea and sparking water," she added.

    You also can reduce added sugar intake at home by cooking from scratch. By making your own granola, pasta sauce and condiments and serving homemade baked treats, you are in control of the ingredients used. "I also reduce the amount of sugar I use in recipes," says Pritchett. "Watch out for added sugars in things like granola bars by making your own at home. Opt for plain yogurt and sweeten your own with frozen fruit or a drizzle of honey." This trick works with cereal too. As your family's taste buds adjust, gradually use less and less of the sweetened varieties.

    Make a healthy relationship with food the overall focus instead of a completely sugar-free diet. Encourage positive associations with foods such as fruits and vegetables by playing up their good qualities and fresh taste — and save the sweet stuff for special occasions.

    Excerpted from: Looking to Reduce Your Family's Intake of Added Sugars? Here's How, Eat Right - Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, By Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, Published December 07, 2016


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