I can't believe I haven't written about this yet. Sugar is my "pet subject" at the moment. I'm constantly talking about how horrendous it is. So I thought it was time I wrote something here.
Sugar has only been widely consumed in this country since the 19th century. Before that, we would mainly have sweetened foods with honey. Only the very rich would have been able to afford sugar and its price would have meant that it was eaten in moderation.
Over the last few decades, sugar consumption has risen drastically. Sugary snacks - chocolate bars, biscuits, cakes, sweets and fizzy pop and available in most shops (even those not selling other food) and often positioned right by the till. We are sold it at cinemas. We watch it being advertised on TV, We even herald the Christmas season by a certain fizzy drink ad appearing on our screens. Sugar is firmly in our culture.
Now, let me talk about sugar. It either comes from sugar cane or sugar beet, but we're not eating a vegetable when we consume it. The sugar crystals we eat are a highly processed substance. And therefore they are a lot stronger than what we would every consume directly from nature.
And that is where the problem starts. By consuming such a strongly sweet product, many of us get a "hit" as the sugar releases neurotransmitters in our brains. Unfortunately when we eat some more, our brains have re-regulated their neurotransmitter release and the hit is much lower. This leads sugar to be one of the most addictive substances around as people crave that original surge of pleasure.
If you disagree with that last statement, try giving up sugar completely. And if you are one of the lucky people in today's society who don't have an addictive personality, try asking your friends to give up sugar and see what their reaction is.
I've heard it said that sugar wouldn't be legal if it was discovered today, but it's very difficult to make a decision against a substance when many of the decision makers will be addicted to it.
Addiction is a complex issue and not one I'm going to tackle here.
However, I am going to talk about the negative effects sugar has on our body.
Let's start with teeth. I remember as a child going to the dentist and seeing wrappers from chocolate and sweets and cans from fizzy drinks pinned up on a notice board along with clear bags containing the amount of sugar they contained. It was quite shocking. I also distinctly remember a poem by Pam Ayres tell the foolish what would happen if they didn't look after their teeth. Both stuck wth me.
Sugar will rot your teeth. Since more or less giving up sugar, my teeth are the most healthy they've ever been. My dentist is amazed and even he, when I tell him my lack of sugar, stares at me with disbelief and admits he couldn't do without it. Strangely, the bags of sugar are no longer pinned to the notice board.
Then there is the effect sugar has when you eat it. We like it because it gives us a "hit". If we're tired, we may eat a biscuit or a chocolate bar to give us some more energy. But this is a short term hit and if we use sugar in this way, we are likely to be stuck with a slump fairly soon afterwards. Either that, or we have to continue to eat sugary snacks.
The pancreas is designed to regulate our blood sugar levels by releasing insulin. This works fine if we consume just a little amount of sugar, but when we over consume it, more pressure is put on the pancreas which eventually wears out and leads to type-2 diabetes.
There are many different types of sugars. Glucose is the type of sugar our bodies use. When we eat healthy carbohydrates, eg starchy vegetables, the body breaks them down into glucose and this is used directly by our organs. However refined sugar has a high fructose content and this cannot be used in the same way. Instead, it gets broken down by the liver. If we are just consuming a small amount, say in fruit, for example, our livers cope fine. But if we are consuming the sorts of amounts found in fizzy drinks and sugary snacks, then our livers can become overwhelmed.
This process in the liver produces higher amounts of uric acid. This puts more pressure on the kidneys and can raise blood pressure.
Fructose doesn't trigger insulin in the same way as glucose, so our bodies don't register when we are full up. That and the inefficient way it metabolises, leads it to be converted and stored as fat in the body. Refined sugar is the fastest way to put on weight.
And on top of this, refined sugar contains no useful nutrition. All the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins and fats have been stripped out. So when we consume it, we are eating empty calories. Then in order to metabolise it, the body has to take certain nutrients from our cells. In this way, it strips the body of nutrients rather than putting them in. Unless, you are in the middle of a famine with nothing else to eat, there is no good reason to consume refined sugar.
So before you reach for that next slice of cake, consider what you're doing to your body.