Sugar is the most common sweet carbohydrate used all over the world. There are many varieties of sugar, but only a few are included, to a considerable extent, in our diet. These are sucrose or cane sugar, dextrose or grape sugar, levulose or fruit sugar and lactose or milk sugar. Natural sugar contained in fruits is called fructose.
Cane sugar, also called the white sugar, is produced in enormous quantities. It is derived commercially from the sugar cane and beet root. When it is eaten, it is slowly converted into levulose and dextrose, for it cannot be utilised by the body in its native form. It must first undergo a digestive process as does starch. But, unlike starch, the digestion of cane sugar does not begin in the mouth, but is delayed until the sugar reaches the intestine.
There has been enormous increase in the consumption of sugar all over the world. Commensurate with the sharp rise of sugar consumption, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of several diseases. There is mounting evidence from many medical sources that white sugar is extremely injurious to health. The heat and chemical process employed in the sugar refinery kills the vitamins and separates the mineral elements, protein and other substances from the sap, leaving nothing but pure sugar crystals, robbed of mineral elements and the life-sustaining vitamins.
White sugar has many great disadvantages. It is irritating and it is difficult to digest. It is called the vitamin-thief. Its high intake can rob the body of its vitamins made available to it by consumption of other foods. Excessive use of white sugar leads to gastric catarrh and hyperacidity. It is also associated with obesity, dental caries, diabetes and coronary heart diseases.
The white sugar supplies only calories without any nutritive value. It contains as many as 300 calories per 100 grams. It has been estimated that 90 per cent of overweight persons consume much more sugar than required. Eating sugar adds to calories. These are stored in the form of fat.
Another problem with sweet foods is that they can easily be overeaten because of their delicious taste. Cakes, pasteries, biscuits and chocolates are some of the items that have a high sugar content and therefore have many calories. For instance, half a small bar of chocolate provides same amount of calories as five apples, but it does not contain the nutrients and fibre that the fruit provides. Thus, if two apples are eaten, it gives a sense of satisfaction due to its fibre content and less calories are ingested. On the other hand, while eating chocolates or sweets, more and more can be eaten without a sense of fullness and therefore more calories are ingested, leading to obesity.
The most harmful effects of sugar is on the teeth. It dissolves quickly in saliva and finds its way into the bacterial layer on the teeth, known as plaque. It feeds on sugar and converts it to acid. This acid eats away the enamel and causes cavities. This acid is produced within seconds of the sugar entering the mouth and attacks the tooth enamel as long as the sugar remains in contact with the teeth. For this reason, both the amount of sugar eaten and its frequency during the day, are important. Sugary foods like biscuits, cakes, fruits and drinks, taken often between the meals, therefore, play an important part in development of tooth decay. Sticky foods such as toffee, dry fruits that cling to the teeth are particularly harmful.
Dr. D.T Quigley, M.D., an eminent medical authority, says, “Sugar is a concentrated carbohydrate, containing no vitamin or mineral of any kind. Every ounce of sugar that is taken reduces the ability to resist infection, as it furnishes only calories and none of the elements which protect against infection.”
Natural sugars such as brown sugar, jaggery, unsulphured dark molasses and honey are preferable to refined white sugar, because they possess some vitamins and minerals. Raw honey also contains enzymes.