What Is Sugar
Sugar has been around for the past 5000 years!
Sugar is naturally occurring in plants, fruit, vegetables and nuts. In South Africa, our high-quality sugar comes from sugar cane. We attribute the beauty of our breathtaking landscapes to the precious crop that is sugar cane.
You may have also heard of the term “sucrose”. Sucrose is the technical term for the table sugar that we use at our homes. Sucrose is made up of just two molecules called glucose and fructose. Sucrose is not only found in sugar cane, it is found in most fruits and vegetables that we eat. There are other types of sugar such as lactose, which is found in milk. Sugar is pure and does not contain any additives or preservatives.
What is the role of Sugar in the diet?
Sugar is a carbohydrate. After we ingest foods with sugar, the body breaks it down to glucose. Glucose is needed by the body for energy. Sugar is brain fuel in that the brain requires about 130g of glucose per day to function properly.
In addition to being nature’s very own sweetener, sugar plays many roles in food production and preparation because of its numerous functional properties. Along with other benefits: sugar preserves, acts as a raising agent in baked goods and gives their soft, crumbly nature, sugar is used to balance the acidity is foods such as tomato sauce. Interestingly sugar makes healthy foods such as high-fibre breakfast cereals to be more palatable. Without sugar, such foods would not be palatable or of good quality. When trying to get more dairy products in your kids’ diets, for instance, the sweetness of dairy products such as yoghurt will help get your child to eat the calcium rich yoghurt.
So, how does sugar get from the sugarcane plants to our table?
In simple terms, once sugarcane is harvested, raw sugar is extracted and then refined first to brown sugar and then white sugar.
Brown sugar gets its distinctive colour from the presence of molasses which is removed during the production of white sugar. Because of its molasses content, brown sugar does contain certain trace minerals, most notably calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium. White sugar contains none of these. As these minerals are present in only minute quantities, there is no real health benefit to using brown sugar over white. The real differences between the two are taste and the effects on baked goods. The type of sugar you use should be based on taste preference.
Sugar is often misunderstood.
Here are some common myths and facts when it comes to sugar:
Sugar is toxic.
There is no mystery about sugar. It is found in plants and is made up of glucose and fructose. Sugar gives us energy and is safe when enjoyed in moderation.
Sugar is a cause of diseases of lifestyle such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Excess energy from all foods and beverages (not just sugar) can lead to someone gaining weight, which puts them at a risk for obesity and other chronic diseases. Research has not shown any direct link between sugar and any of these conditions.
Sugar is addictive.
The available scientific information does not support the idea that sugar or any other food can be addictive. Yes, eating something you like is pleasurable and increases the release of the hormone dopamine. This is the same pleasure you would get from seeing a good friend for example. In terms of psychological pathways there is a difference between pleasure and addiction.
Sugar is a high glycaemic food.
The glycaemic index (GI) measures the rate at which the starches and sugars in food get broken down to glucose and are released into the bloodstream. The GI of the sugar is 65, falling in the moderate GI range of 56-69. High glycaemic foods have a GI of 70 or more.
“Low in sugar” always means low in energy.
Replacing sugar in products is not simple because of the many and unique functional properties of sugar. When sugar is removed from food there are new ingredients, usually more than one, that need to take its place to replace both the flavour and functionality of sugar. The best thing to do is to read labels to see what the entire nutritional analysis of the product is, especially the fat content.