Sugar – How it affects us

Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting and soluble carbohydrates that provides energy to the food. We will discuss sugar how it affects us and its types. There are two types of sugar. Natural sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods like fruit, vegetables, dairy, and grains in the form of lactose and fructose. Added sugar is found in processed foods and drinks. It has zero nutritional value and is added for-

  • To keep baked foods fresh longer
  • To improve the texture, color, and taste of foods and drinks
  • To protect food from spoiling
  • To help fermentation in bread and alcohol

Foods that contain sugar are

  • Cakes, pastries, and candies
  • Ice cream and yogurt
  • Soft drinks, juice drinks, and energy drinks
  • Sauces, ketchup, jam
  • Chocolates, doughnuts, and Indian sweets
  • Breakfast cereals, cereal bars
  • Biscuits and snacks

Our daily intake of sugar accounts for 17 tablespoons a day. Dietary guidelines suggest limiting sugar intake to 8 tablespoons a day.

FoodSugar (per 100gm)
Soda drinks64gm
Processed juice72gm
Chocolate bar57gm
Yogurt47gm
Cakes64gm
Nutella54gm

How sugar affects our body

  1. Can cause weight gain

Research shows that people who consume sweetened products tend to weigh more and are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who don’t. Consuming sugar increases your hunger and resists Leptin, an important hormone that regulates hunger. This resistance makes us consume more sugar and leads to weight gain.

2. Increase the risk of cardiovascular disease

A high-sugar-rich diet causes obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure, all contributing to heart diseases. Also, consuming excess sugar leads to the formation of atherosclerosis, an artery-clogging deposits disease. The deposition causes the heart’s walls to inflame and grow thicker and stiffer. This condition can lead to heart failure, strokes, and attacks. So, people who consume excess sugar are at twice a higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who don’t

3. Accelerate the skin aging process

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are compounds formed by the reaction between sugar and protein in our body. They play a pivotal part in skin aging. So, intake of high-sugar foods accelerates the production of AGEs, further damaging collagen and elastin. Research shows that the woman who takes high sugar diet has a more wrinkled appearance than the woman who takes a more protein-rich diet

4. Lead to fatty liver

The liver breaks fructose into glycogen. However, excess stored glycogen in the liver turns into fat. A large amount of sugar in the form of fructose overloads your liver, leading to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). It is a condition in which excessive fat builds up in the liver. A study shows that taking high sugar diet can increase 56% more chances of developing NAFLD.

5. Increase the risk of type 2 diabetes

Consuming too much sugar causes obesity, the most potent risk factor for diabetes. So, the pancreas pumps out more insulin and makes the body insulin-resistant. High blood pressure increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. In 2019, diabetes was the 9th leading cause of death and took 1.5 million lives.

6. Leads to kidney failure

The kidneys play an essential role in filtering our blood. But, if you have diabetes, the kidneys release excess sugar in the urine. If left uncontrolled, it puts extra pressure on the kidneys to filter the blood and leads to kidney failure.

7. Increase the risk of depression

Every time we eat sugar, it releases the brain’s reward neurotransmitter, Dopamine. It is the same hormone derived from pleasure activities. The increase in dopamine concentration in the body leaves us craving more sugar, which is eight times more addictive than cocaine. Studies have linked a higher sugar intake to a greater risk of depression in adults. Research shows that people who consume sugar of 67gm or more per day for more than 20 years are 23% more likely to get depression than those who consume less than 40 gm per day.

8. Impacts the dental health

Consuming too much sugar can cause cavities. Bacteria in our mouth thrive on sugar intake and release acid by-products, which causes tooth demineralization.

9. Affects your joints

A high sugar diet can cause inflammation and worsen joint pain. So, it increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

10. Drains the energy

Food high in sugar spikes blood sugar and insulin levels and gives instant energy, which is fleeting. Constant blood sugar swings can fluctuate our energy levels and drain the body.

History of sugar

The primary sweetener used in ancient history was honey. Around 8000 BCE, people in New Guinea found tall grass, Sugarcane. They chewed it and found a burst of sweetness in their mouth. Eventually, through trade, sugar managed to travel to new places. In the 4th century, sugarcane juice was processed to make semi-processed sweeteners like jaggery and Khand. We can find this reference in an Indian religious text, the Atharva Veda.

 In 510 BC, emperor Darius of Persia invaded India, where he found the process of making sugar. The Arab Empire expanded sugar production by using the Spanish water wheel. The Arabs perfected the sugar refinement process and turned this into a big industry. The Europeans were introduced to sugar during the 11th century. But sugar was in limited supply and the most luxurious item then. So, only Royals could afford to own it and made 6 feet sculptures made of sugar to exhibit affluence and wealth.

Portuguese sugar traders started their production base on the Caribbean Island. For the mass production of sugar, they enslaved millions of enslaved Africans from the 16th century to the 19th century. The conditions in sugar plantations where African workers were forced to work had horrible conditions. They were subjected to being whipped and even killed at the desire of their masters. They worked 18 hours a day in the sun and lived in a miserable place. Due to the mass production of sugar, its price fell and became more readily available in Europe. Eventually, sugar went from being a luxurious item to a staple item in the kitchen.

At the end of the 19th century, Britishers started large-scale industrial production of refined sugar in India. In 1930, the Britishers started the modern sugar processing industry with a grant of tariff protection to the sugar industry. The grant increased the number of sugar mills, and sugar production increased by 460%. Moreover, the Indian government introduced a licensing policy in 1954 that boosted the sugar industry. Today, India is the 2nd largest producer of sugar, after Brazil.

How sugar affects India’s economy

Risk to environment

India is the largest producer of sugarcane crops. Generally, other crops require 300-500mm of rainfall for their growth. On the other hand, one hectare of Sugarcane requires three crore liters of water in 12-15 months. This value is equivalent to meeting the water requirement of 1000 people for 12 months. According to Firstpost 2018 report, “Sugarcane requires 2500mm of water and rainfall in Marathwada is 500-700mm. The remaining 80% of the water has been pumped out of groundwater for years, causing a depletion of groundwater level so much that there is no water left to pump out”. According to NITI Aayog March 2020, the returns from sugarcane cultivation are 60-70% higher than most other crops.

Impacts Indian market

The marketing campaign of packaging foods shows them as a healthier alternative and full of nutrients. But the reality is quite the opposite. Horlicks claims it to be clinically proven to help children to grow taller, stronger, and sharper. But 20gm of Horlicks contains 14gm of sugar, which has no nutritional value. Complan claims it is clinically proven that it aids” 2x faster growth in kids” and has 34 nutrients. But, 100gm contains 30gm of sugar and harmful ingredients like maltodextrin, inositol, taurine, and L-carnitine. Tropicana contains 29gm of sugar in 100gm of juice.

Aggressive marketing strategies such as celebrity endorsements, the use of cartoon characters, catchy slogans, and the inclusion of gifts were being adopted to attract children and create brand consciousness. Children are an easy target for advertisers who adopt innovative and creative ways to market their products. Repeatedly watching the food products advertisements only increases the child’s urge to buy the product. This urge, lack of physical activity, and longer screen time contribute to kids’ obesity. Childhood obesity is now an epidemic in India. With 14.4 million obese children, India is second in the obesity chart.

According to Hindustan Times, 2018, Information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani said that industry bodies like the Food and Beverage Alliance of India have “already decided” to restrict food and beverage advertisements concerning children voluntarily. Therefore, the government of India has no plans to ban ‘high sugar, fat, and salt’ foods.

The exploitation of sugar mills

India has 732 sugar mills, which produce 35 million tonnes. But, India’s demand for sugar is 25 million tonnes. These mills are owned mainly by politicians, and they don’t put any regulations on them. This politicization is responsible for the terrible situation of farmers. Furthermore, sugarcane farmers across India wait for dues worth Rs. 24000 crores. Out of 180-odd defaulting sugar factories in Maharashtra, 77 are owned by BJP leaders, 53 by NCP leaders, 43 by Congress leaders, and the rest by Shiv Sena.

How to tackle the problem

Government take action

The government needs to regulate the food and beverage industry because voluntary regulation is not working correctly. The voluntary regulation has allowed food and drinks companies to call themselves “healthy,” but they are not. Secondly, the government needs to help farmers transition away from Sugarcane to other crops like pulses, jowar, sugar beet, etc. The transition will restore the groundwater and clear the debts of farmers. Thirdly, the government needs to oppose the political influence of mills and regulate their marketing.

Switch to healthier alternatives

We can switch to healthier alternatives available in the market and don’t have to compromise our sweet tooth.

Coconut sugar

It is derived from the coconut palm tree, without much refining or use of chemicals. It is rich in iron, potassium, zinc, and calcium. It gets easily digested in the body and has a significantly lower glycemic index(35) than sugar(68). The lower the glycemic index, the slower sugar is released in the body. It is used in milk, curd, cereals, cakes, etc.

Dates sugar

It is one of the healthiest alternatives and is rich in fiber and vitamins. We can make it in our home by roasting the dates, grinding them, and straining them into a container. It increases bone density, helps in digestion, and reduces bad cholesterol. The glycemic index of dates is 45-50.

Mishri

We Indians have been using mishri for ages. It is prepared in the process of refined sugar and taken out just before chemically treating it. It tastes exactly like sugar but has several nutrients, like iron, calcium, magnesium, dietary fiber, and antioxidants. It helps in digestion and increases hemoglobin. Thread mishri is always preferred as it is the most simple form of sugar.

Honey

It has the same chemical composition as human blood. So, we can quickly assimilate 100% nutrients available in honey. Any food mixed with honey gets easily digested in the body. It has antioxidants and antibacterial properties. It helps in cardiovascular activities, cuts fat, and improves mental awareness.

Stevia

It is a zero-calorie sweetener extracted from the leaves of stevia. It has been used in Ayurveda named ‘meethi tulsi .’It is 25 times sweeter than sugar and has zero glycemic indexes. It helps in regulating blood pressure and cuts extra fat in the body. It comes in dried leaves, sachet, and drops.

Jaggery

Jaggery and jaggery powder have been used in India since time immemorial. They are extracted from sugarcane juice and are the least processed. They naturally purify the blood, boost metabolism, detox the liver, and prevent constipation. They prove wonders for skin problems. Jaggery is hot, while jaggery powder is calm.

Frequently asked questions

Q.1. How many tablespoons of sugar are recommended by dieticians??

Ans. 6-7 teaspoons of sugar is recommended for a healthy lifestyle.

Q.2. What other alternatives are available in the market apart from sugar??

Ans. We can resort to stevia, jaggery powder, coconut sugar, honey, and thread mishri.

Q.3. What other measures should be taken for a healthy heart??

Ans. We should cut down our sugar intake, do exercise/running for 20 mins, eat seasonal and fresh fruits and vegetables, and reduce stress in our lives.

Q.4. How can we promote healthy lifestyle for children??

Ans. We should keep a tab on their screen time, promote outdoor activities, take them to fresh farms, include lots of vegetables in their diet, and involve them in vegetable shopping.

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