The killer lurking on every café table
TOKYO (majirox news) — Many people drink one or two soft drinks or canned beverages a day. Many more will enjoy a sweet snack, a cookie or some chocolate, often also drinking three or four cups of tea or coffee every day, all with added sugar.
The refined sugar in all of the above is an addictive potential danger to our health. Scientists worldwide currently study its effects.
Sugars occur naturally in many foods, but what we call ‘sugar,’ the refined product of sugar cane, sugar beet or corn syrup, called ‘free sugar‘ or ‘added sugar’ to distinguish it from these other sugars.
Sugar in Japanese Foods
Sugar in this form has been around for almost 500 years in the West. In Japan, where it is a relatively new import, it is impossible to escape it. Giving up sugar in your coffee, or eliminating it from your cooking isn’t enough. Almost all processed foods contain sugar – even sour umeboshi (picked plums) or pet food.
It’s not just about the flavor – manufacturers often mask the sweetness by adding salt – there is a mechanism that makes free sugar (and those products containing it) addictive. Typically, our bodies convert carbohydrates, such as those in a bowl of rice or a slice of bread, to blood glucose and then release insulin to bring down the level. With free sugar, the insulin rush is such that our blood sugar level is then depressed to a level where we crave more sugar, leading to more insulin release. And so the vicious cycle continues.
The “empty energy” of refined sugar provides us with no benefits other than a sudden rise in blood sugar. The sugar in honey, or even brown sugar, at least has some nutritional value, and is to be preferred over the refined white sugar.
Dangerous to Health
As with so many addictive substances, long-term use of refined sugar has a negative effect on health.
We’ve been told, “don’t eat too many sweets, they’re bad for your teeth,” but there are other health risks.
Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States (1 in 3 Americans can now be classified as obese, according to the USDH), and the condition can be linked to an almost doubled rate of sugar consumption from the 1980s to today – now nearly 90 pounds per person per year.
Obesity, though not in itself a disease, can be the root cause of cardiovascular trouble, and other diseases.
Continued internal exposure to high levels of insulin created through excess sugar consumption can also lead to the development of diabetes – another disease that is on the increase in almost all developed countries.
And lastly, and most worryingly, there appears to be a connection between obesity, diabetes and cancer. This was first pointed out by the WHO International Cancer Research Agency in 2004, and scientists at Sloan Kettering and Harvard Medical School claim to have found a link between elevated insulin levels (sugar again) and accelerated tumor growth.
While it may be impossible to eliminate refined sugar entirely from our diet, thanks to its ubiquity in prepared foods, ranging from salad dressings to kamaboko (fish paste), it’s possible to act more sensibly and cut out many of the overly sweet things from our lives, or seek alternatives containing natural sweetness, such as fruit or honey-based sweeteners.
WHO has recommended that we limit our intake of refined sugar to ten percent or less of our carbohydrate intake, thereby allowing our entire bodies to process sugars (refined sugar is primarily processed by the liver, which converts the sugar to fat).
Examining the list of ingredients on food labels is also often a worthwhile exercise as well, allowing us to pick alternatives that may not be sugar-free, but at least help to reduce our intake of this insidious charmer that ultimately does us no good at all in return for the fleeting moments of pleasure we gain from its consumption.