You Need It To Live, But Too Much Will Kill You
Seldom in history has a product worn the horns of the Devil and the wings of an angel at the same time. Loved and respected because it provides the energy we need to work, to play, even to breathe, sugar is so important to our diet our bodies take several things we eat and convert them into sugars.
However, eat too much sugar and your body will blimp up and your organs will slowly but surely break down. Never has "moderate consumption" been so important.
But what's "moderate"? How can we tell what's too much?
Let's look at an example.
In our example you will eat 16 teaspoons of refined sugar all in one short sitting. Don't worry, it will be in liquid form. Sound outrageous? That's how much sugar is in a 20 ounce bottle of cola. In every bottle.
In general, if you look at the ingredient list of products before you buy them and see some that end in the letters "...ose" you have various different kinds of sugars. Sugars come with other name endings, but "...ose" tends to be the most common ending in packaged foods we eat. Most of them are complex sugars our bodies break down into simple ones so they can be used to burn as energy.
Sugars, along with starch, are the basic carbohydrates. Inside your gut they all become sugars, ultimately simple sugars. What your body can't use it will expel through your colon or convert to fat for storage.
Because our bodies can only convert a limited amount of sugar into fat at one time, if you are going to eat too much sugar, eat it in a binge. Most of it you will enjoy in your mouth and you will get rid of it in the toilet the next day. Eat a little too much sugar on a regular basis and your body will store it in special cells in your body known as fat cells.
The average American consumes 61 pounds of refined sugar each year. About 25 pounds of that would be in the form of candy. That's just sucrose, though, and the number doesn't include amounts of any other sugars we consume.
Sugar may cause your skin to wrinkle. Called glycation, blood sugar in the skin binds to collagen so the skin loses its elasticity. Cut out excess sugar consumption and your skin may retain its elasticity. No good or easy or cheap method exists today to help skin regain its elasticity.
There's nothing new about the kind of sugar we eat. When Alexander the Great invaded India over 2000 years ago he was shocked at how the people managed to create "honey" without bees.
Sugar cane is a plant of hot climate countries. That's why people who live in the tropics have had it sweet for so long. Andreas Marggraf discovered, in 1747, that the sugar in sugar beets was the same as that in sugar cane. Sugar beets can be grown in much colder climates than sugar cane.
The first sugar beet factory opened in 1802. Over half of the 8.4 metric tonnes of sugar used in the USA this year--no, seriously, make that 8.4 million metric tonnes--will come from sugar beets. Sugar beets are a form of beet with white sweet roots. Only the root is used to make refined sugar.
Getting back to soft drinks, the kinds with artificial sweeteners may contribute to obesity rather than prevent it. A study at Purdue University using rats had one group consuming soft drinks with artificial sweeteners and another with sugar-sweetened drinks.
The group that drank the artificial sweeteners consumed more calories from other foods than the sugar group. The study did not consider the controversial belief that long term consumption of the artificial sweetener aspartame might cause major diseases. Rats don't live long enough.
Like many popular discoveries artificial sweeteners aspartame and saccharin were found by accident. Lab researchers working on projects having nothing to do with sweetening mixed some test compounds and decided to taste them.
Ask yourself what kind of researcher eats his own experiment.
The artificial sweetener Splenda came about in an even stranger way. The scientists were looking for a new insecticide. [I'll just wait here while you process that thought. Prepare yourself for the next part so we don't have to pause again.]
A lab assistant had been asked to "test" the compound, but he thought he had been told to "taste" the compound. Remember, they had been looking for an insecticide. [Good thing you prepared yourself for that.]
Table sugar certainly isn't the sweetest taste around. A compound called lugduname is actually 200,000 times sweeter. [Do you wonder where the lab assistant is today that tasted that stuff?]
Sugars are compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The simplest (simple sugars) are most commonly known as glucose, fructose and galactose. Table sugar (a complex sugar) consists of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule fused together. Other complex sugars dance with different partners.
We don't want to avoid sugars totally because they are carbohydrates, by far the most common organic molecules in all living things. [Unless you consider minerals to be "living," which is a whole different discussion.]
An eight-atom sugar called glycolaldehyde has the ability to react with a three-carbon sugar to form ribose, a major component of RNA (ribonucleic acid), which does the real work in living things while DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) takes all the credit.
Who cares? Glycolaldehyde has been found in an interstellar gas cloud near the centre of the Milky Way. [Stay with me here.] Glycolaldehyde may therefore be a precursor of life on our planet. If it's in space, it might have been here.
That same gas cloud, by the way, contains ethylene glycol, which most of us think of as antifreeze. Which is sweet, but lethal, as many animals have learned when they licked up antifreeze leaks.
These are complex sugars. In deep space. We must at least hypothesize that they were synthesized in space. We haven't yet guessed how that could happen.
Sugar can be used as more than a fuel for your body. Burn table sugar (sucrose) with some corn syrup and a bit of saltpeter and you have a popular amateur rocket fuel.
It's also sometimes prescribed by doctors. Yup, you pay a dispensing fee to buy a product called "Obecalp," a sugar pill made to FDA specifications. It may be prescribed for mild problems with a variety of symptoms but no clear therapy. [Spell the product name backwards.]
Not only is the "placebo effect" surprisingly real according to recent studies, the sugar itself may actually help clear up symptoms. Glucosamine works as an immunosuppressant (drug that lowers the body's normal immuneã€€response) in mice.
Immune system suppression is a mixed blessing because while it can go crazy sometimes, such as with allergies, it also protects us from viruses and bad bacteria. The sugar alcohol xylitol can be used to prevent ear infections in children.
You better have a dose of Obecalp and think about this.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers, parents and grandparents who want to grow children who are healthy in all developmental streams, not just intellectually and physically. It's a great gift.
Learn more at http://billallin.com
[Primary resource: Discover, October 2009]