Food is an integral part of our lives - starting when we are born and continuing through our senior years. It is not only a form of nutrition but also an important part of celebrations and holiday gatherings.
When we are young, we don’t often think about our diet unless it involves ordering our favorite junk foods, like pizza or candy, or when we argue with our parents about not eating vegetables or healthy foods.
As we get older, food restrictions play a more important part of our life, as we may need to watch our salt intake, cholesterol levels and weight. As we continue to age, there are other food restrictions that may kick in may like difficulty in swallowing or lack of appetite. Food in many ways can be a blessing, but it can also contribute to many difficulties and be considered a curse to many.
The wonder of eating lies in the pleasure and enjoyment it brings. The struggle, however, is what, how much, and when to eat. Information to support all possible combinations, no doubt, exists; but having to filter all of this information is the real curse.
Our ancestors didn’t have these struggles inasmuch as there was a limit to the choices available and that is largely still the case in developing nations. However, in the developed world, the choices are endless.
Historically, sugar cane was domesticated on the Island of New Guinea from where it spread to Asia where it was reportedly first processed into powder way back in 500 BC.
It was further refined into a syrup in India and then hardened into crystals called Khanda, which also led to the usage of the word candy in the English world. At that time, it was used as a medicine and in ceremonies in many cultures.
From there it flourished within the Arab culture. They had learned how to produce refined sugar in increasing volumes making it more common in their culture. The west gained access to it during the crusader wars of the Holy Land. The English and French returned with the sweet powder to the delight of the European elite.
Since sugar cane would grow only in warm and wet climates, and surely not in England or France, its mass production began on the islands of Jamaica and Cuba as also in Brazil.
African slaves became a big part of the mass production scheme of sugar which led to the rapid fall in its price. The sweet tooth was no longer the sole preserve of the elite, even the middle class could easily afford it.
It is said that in the 1700s the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds of sugar a year, as against 77 pounds for the average American today. With this begins the horror story of sugar, which though sweet in taste, has led to bitterness in human life due to the wide prevalence of the diseases that its excess consumption has occasioned.
Glucose is the main sugar needed for cellular metabolism. Its use is regulated by hormones like insulin, leptin and glucagon. Table sugar is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized solely by the liver where it is turned into fat.
Therefore, when we eat sugar, half of it goes to fat while the other half goes to the cells for use. This is all good when the quantity consumed is in balance with our needs. However, sugar is also hyper-palatable, and that’s exactly what our brain wants. Like drugs, it stimulates the release of dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical in the brain.
As we consume it, our bodies create more dopamine receptors that lead us to crave for more sugar, resulting in a vicious cycle of sugar consumption and adding fat on our bodies. Our body loves it for all the easy-to-consume calories it provides, and it’s hard to resist, hooking us up once and for all.
It is reported that by 2050, obese people will constitute the majority of the population and sugar will be responsible for it. Sugar does not merely lead to addiction, it is also responsible for the obesity epidemic we have at our hands.
How does it happen? Well, it does so in a pretty complicated way. First, it makes our body more insulin resistant, causing our pancreas to work harder and produce more insulin each time we eat, storing a large part of incoming calories in our fat cells. Insulin also blocks the hormone called “leptin,” thereby preventing it from sending signals to our brain that we’ve eaten enough.
This causes us to eat more because our body thinks that it is starving. This leads to the unwanted weight gain with all its unhealthy consequences. The heart becomes the first target in a manner that an engine designed for a jeep is fitted into a truck.
High sugar consumption also lowers levels of good cholesterol, and this has been shown to increase levels of triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood that poses an increased risk for heart disease.
Besides having empty calories with no nutrition value, sugar damages our immune system and actually robs our body of essential minerals. Sugar causes vital minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium, to seep from the body.
Excess sugar consumed becomes acidic bacteria inside our mouth, which begins to dissolve and damage our teeth, which will rapidly increase the rate of tooth decay. This can weaken the teeth and bones, causing tooth decay and diseases like osteoporosis.
Also, by reducing the efficiency of white blood cells for hours at a time after consumption, sugar compromises the immune system and obstructs our ability to fight disease and infection.
Sugar could potentially damage our eyesight also. High blood sugar causes the lenses of our eyes to swell, which changes our ability to see properly.
For all these reasons we may most probably want to stop eating sugar. Getting our blood sugar levels back down to a healthy range will certainly fix the issue, but it’s still a big cause for concern.
Avoiding foods high in sugar, such as fizzy drinks and sweets, will help to keep our teeth and gums protected from bacteria. For many of us, avoiding refined sugar can be a challenge, but for some adults, stopping sugar is a necessity that has to occur for health reasons. If we are going to stop eating sugar, consider these tips to boost our overall success.
As in other walks of life, moderation is the key. The idea of moderation with an understanding that refined sugar/HFCS is the main issue some lifestyle changes are imperative. Enjoy fruit as part of 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day.
Avoid most, if not all HFCS, sugar-enhanced beverages and processed foods. Let us teach our kids the 90/10 rule. If 90% of the food they ingest is wholesome and non-processed then, depending on their metabolism, 5-10% of their diet can have some “kid” food in it. Remember that a 12 oz. can of cola has 44 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to 11 sugar packets, like the kind on the table at a restaurant.
For the benefit of the readers let us let us make them aware of the sugar content of various lifestyle foods. (KKD or Krispy Kreme Doughnut) = 1 glazed original has 21 grams of carbohydrate and 10 grams of sugar; Starbucks Frappuccino (16oz) = 69 grams of sugar or 7 KKDs; Yoplait original yogurt = 18 grams or 1.8 KKDs; V8 Fusion Vegetable Juice (8oz) = 28 grams or 2.8 KKDs; Motts Apple Juice (8oz) = 28 grams or 2.8 KKDs; Vitamin WATER (20oz) = 33 grams or 3.3 KKDs; Odawalla Super Food Smoothie (12oz) = 50 grams or 5 KKDs; Nesquick fat free chocolate milk (16oz) = 54 grams or 5.4 KKDs.
Purportedly these are healthy foods, but as we see for ourselves, certainly not so much. The current recommendations for refined or added sugar intake are: 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. 1 packet of sugar = 4 grams or 1 teaspoon.
Therefore, 1 frappuccino is 17 packets of sugar and way more than anyone should consume in a day, let alone in one drink. Let us avoid these foods and save our liver, heart, pancreas, teeth, bones and other organs from the torture of suffering these foods.
In a way Kashmiris are lucky that cane sugar does not grow in Kashmir. Common Kashmiris would generally take the salt tea called “noona chaay” or “sheeri chaay” and would reserve “Kehwa” for special occasions. So would also we not be wedded to the sweets.
Wazawaan, again is almost free of sugar. Coupled with the use of the mustard oil in cooking, bakery that is mostly made from wholesome flour, and the boiled fresh vegetables from the fields or dal lake, the Kashmiri plate is generally healthy.
But ever since the template of new lifestyle has made inroads into the valley, people are paying the price in terms of their health. It is hoped that with the greater awareness, people will make healthy choices.
Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.