Monday, March 24, 2008

For what sugar you had?

Several different types of sugar are available, namely white, golden brown and the so-called 'speciality sugars' which include soft brown, caramel brown, multicoloured crystals, castor, icing and yellow sugar. Golden brown sugar is the end product of the milling process. Also known as raw sugar, it is from this that all the following types of sugar are produced:

Yellow sugar has simply had yellow colouring added to it.

Sugar and nutrition

Sugar is pure carbohydrate and as such its main contribution to the diet is food energy. One gram provides 17 kilojoules (4 calories). This energy is readily availableto the body, that is, the body can use it very quickly and efficiently. This may be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the situation. For example, for anathlete taking part in an endurance event and therefore requiring a quick energy top-up, sugar is very useful. On the other hand, for diabetics - who have difficulty keeping their blood sugar level under control - the fact bloodstream relatively quickly is a

Diet Start

Another aspect to consider regarding sugar as an energy source is that it is inexpensive. This may not be of concern in affluent nations, but it means that sugar can be used to supplement energy-deficient diets of impoverished communities.

Despite claims to the contrary, the difference between the nutritional value of brown as opposed to white sugar is negligible. The brown variety does contain more molasses (the syrup left behind when sugar crystals are produced from sugar cane) and molasses is a rich source of certain nutrients, but in terms of the overall contribution to the diet, the amounts are insignificant. As an illustration, while molasses is considered a good source of iron, in order to meet the Recommended Daily Allowance for iron for an adult woman from brown sugar alone, one would have to eat nearly half a kilogram!

Why is sugar found in so many foods?

One of the major concerns people have about sugar is the fact that it is found in such a wide variety of foods - including foods that don't even taste sweet - which makes it easy to consume relatively large amounts of sugar without being aware of it. The reason it is used so widely is because it is a very versatile product. It has certain properties which enable it to perform numerous functions in foods - for example, it adds flavour, colour and texture and acts as a natural preservative.

Although sugar substitutes are available, none of these has all the properties of sugar and many products in which it is used would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to produce without sugar. For example, sugar may be used in the production of bread to improve its shelf life and in beer to assist with fermentation. Since South African food law states that food ingredients must be listed in descending order of quantity, you can get a good idea of the extent to which sugar has been used in a product simply by reading labels.

A spoonful of moderation

Having looked at where sugar comes from, what it does and its role in nutrition and health, it is clear that as is the case with so many other aspects of nutrition, much of what is commonly believed is not necessarily accurate. Too often, what is held to be absolute truth is in fact the result of assumptions and hearsay rather than controlled scientific research.

As far as sugar is concerned, the conclusion to which research has brought us is that, provided it is used in moderation as part of a balanced diet, it is not harmful. But what, you may ask, is moderation? It is difficult to give specific quantities because we all have different energy requirements, but the general consensus is that it is acceptable to consume up to 10% of your total energy intake in the form of simple carbohydrates (that is, all sugars). For an average adult man, this would be the equivalent of about 16 teaspoons of table sugar per day; for a woman, about 12 teaspoons. However, because (as mentioned above) so much of the sugar we consume is 'hidden' in manufactured or processed foods, it is very difficult to establish exactly how much sugar you are in fact eating. The best policy, therefore, is to have three balanced meals a day, concentrating on fresh, wholesome foods which are prepared at home wherever possible. Sugar, used sensibly to improve the palatability of such a diet, forms a useful part of good nutrition.

... andjoyohoxing