Sugar’s Present—How Sweet Is It?
DO YOU recognize me? My scientific friends know me as C12 H22 O11. I have not been without prominence since I made my debut on the world scene. Several times in world history, and in many parts of the earth, I was more precious than gold and rarer too. I remember once, in China, when some Indian princes owed tribute money to the emperor, that this Chinese ruler demanded that the tribute be paid by giving me to him rather than gold.
Great debates and controversies have been waged in the majestic palaces and great senate halls the world over due to my presence. I take no pleasure in saying that millions of people have literally been enslaved and millions have died because of me.
Today I am again the center of great controversies. Some say that I should be banned from the face of the earth forever. Others say that I am refined, sweet and needed, and not at all the villain I am accused of being.
Now do you recognize me? I am the spoonful of sugar that the popular song of the ’60’s said “helps the medicine go down . . . in a most delightful way.” I am the spoonful of sugar that was tied in a small cloth and served as a pacifier for you while your mother did her housework. I am the spoonful of sugar that coats the laxative pills you take and sweetens the otherwise bitter medicines you drink. I am in the cosmetics with which you adorn your face and in the synthetic rubbers and plastics that literally surround you. I helped with the curing of the leather for the shoes you wear. Those who smoke tobacco are smoking part of me. When you dye your clothes I am there. If you die and your remains are buried in a plastic casket, there I will be also. I am in your life, literally, from the cradle to the grave.
In addition to all these things and more, there is the thing for which I am the most popular—the ability to satisfy your insatiable desire for something sweet. And herein lies the paradox. My assets are, to my opponents, my liabilities. Their claim is that I am in everything and everywhere. To deny this, of course, would be for me to disregard the facts. I would be the first to say that more often than not the use of me is the abuse of me.
It is reasonable to say that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But is it reasonable that a spoonful of sugar also helps tomato ketchup, or horseradish, or relish, or salad dressings go down? Or bread, or canned vegetables, or, would you believe it, salt, to mention a few more? Does a pretzel need sugar? Are you not surprised that a package of processed gefilte fish, of all things, was found to have more sugar per serving than a piece of cake?
Why should I be a prominent ingredient in foods that you don’t expect to taste sweet in the first place? If you have a sweet tooth you know that munching on a cookie would probably satisfy your desire. But what reasonableness is there in the fact that a salted cracker might serve your purpose just as well with its 12 percent sugar content? By eating a certain chocolate candy bar you might well expect to consume 51 percent sugar. But what might disturb your good sense of judgment would be the discovery that you would be consuming the same amount of sugar by eating certain breaded chicken coatings.
I am not a genius, nor does it take one to determine that manufacturers and food processors of almost any consumable product apparently season with the idea that a spoonful of sugar will help their product go down in a most delightful way, whether I am needed or not. I consider this an abuse of me. It is also additional ammunition for my critics.
Consider, for example, the world consumption of me for the year 1982—calculated to have exceeded ninety-two million metric tons. Americans and many others will consume about seventy-seven pounds* of me (refined) in a year, per person, and the average adolescent three pounds a week. Yet 75 percent of this consumption is nondiscretionary. Only a small portion actually comes from your sugar bowl. Facts show that people are buying less of me, yet their consumption of me is increasing. To plan menus, then, with a total abstinence of me would be, though not impossible, very difficult.
Possibly, most people recognize me only as I appear in their sugar bowls—white and refined. In this form I am known as sucrose, about 99.9 percent pure and sold in either granulated or powdered form. Do not stop, however, when you see the word “sugar” or “sucrose” on the food labels. Other names of mine to watch for are fructose (from fruits), lactose (from milk), maltose (malt sugar), glucose, corn syrup, corn-syrup solids, dextrose and maple sugar. Raw sugar is banned in the United States unless impurities—dirt, insect parts, molds, bacteria and other contaminents—are removed. When this is done it can be sold as turbinado sugar. Although dark in color, this should not be confused with brown sugar, which generally is simply white refined sugar sprayed with molasses.
Now add to the estimated seventy-seven pounds of refined sugar consumed per person for the year 1982 another forty-five pounds of corn sweeteners (becoming more popular with food processors due to cheaper cost) found in foods on supermarket shelves, and the per capita consumption of sugar soars to even dizzier heights.
If you have a very basic knowledge of me you will know that, like starches, I am also a carbohydrate, which provides your body with energy, heat and subsequently the fuel for moving your body. When you consume more carbohydrates than your body can use, the excess is converted to fat.
In view, then, of your body’s basic need for fuel and energy, what’s wrong with eating sugar? The problem is that, unlike other sources of carbohydrates, I contain no proteins, no minerals, no vitamins—no nutrients except calories. And these I have in abundance—about sixty to a half ounce, or about a tablespoonful. Nutritionists describe me as being “empty calories.” On the other hand, in consuming foods other than sugar that are also rich in carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits, you are getting not only good energy sources but many nutrients as well.
Consumer Reports magazine of March 1978 really puts me down. I must agree, however, when it writes: “Essentially, there’s absolutely no dietary requirement for sugar that can’t be satisfied by other, more nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables. There isn’t even a need for sugar for so-called quick energy, to fuel a morning of tennis, skiing, or the like.” Your body’s already-stored energy fuel supply will take care of that.
Now what adds additional injury is that when I am consumed in such concentrated doses before a meal, say in a candy bar, pies and cakes, and possibly washed down with a twelve-ounce can of cola beverage, which contains about nine spoonfuls of sugar itself, then these empty calories have satisfied your appetite, and the beneficial foods are shunned at mealtime. You put on additional weight, but you are actually starving for good nutrition. You are aware of your weight, but you are not aware that you are malnourished.
Although I am accused of many sinister things, many of which are debatable, there is one thing that all experts seem to agree on—I cause tooth decay, and particularly in children. Even the Sugar Association, whose role it is to promote more of me, agrees on this point. The problem, according to dental experts, is that as sugar I am used by the bacteria normally present in your mouth to create a thick gel-like substance that sticks tenaciously to your teeth. It speeds the buildup of bacterial plaque, which, along with other acids, attacks the teeth and leaves them vulnerable to decay.
Experts say, however, that it is not how much sugar you consume that determines the number of cavities you will get, but the form in which the sugar is consumed. If, for example, you eat a candy bar that has 10 percent sugar you can do more damage to your teeth than by drinking a soda beverage with a 25 percent sugar content. The reason is obvious. The candy will stick to your teeth, hence a longer exposure, whereas the sugar in the soda is washed away. However, before you breathe a sigh of relief if you are a soft-drink guzzler, you must be aware of this: Scientists report that several soft drinks a day could do more damage to your teeth than one piece of chewy candy a week. Also, colas and many other soft drinks often contain acids that are harmful to the teeth.
So, children, this points up another fact that your parents have possibly been trying to get through to you: Be diligent in brushing your teeth regularly, particularly after eating sweets. More especially after eating sugar-ladened foods before going to bed. The longer I am between your teeth the greater the chance of tooth decay and cavities.
Here is a hope but not necessarily an antidote: According to recent preliminary findings, as reported in The New York Times of December 16, 1980, cheddar cheese may actually inhibit tooth decay. “We think it’s a valid observation that will have to be pursued, but it is only in a preliminary stage yet,” said Dr. William H. Bowen, chief of the caries (tooth decay) prevention and research branch of the National Institute of Dental Research.
American scientists, following up on the research of a British colleague, who had found that cheddar cheese had a decay-slowing effect on human teeth, tested laboratory rats with a semiprocessed cheddar. The results were the same, reported Dr. Bowen, “provided the animals ate the cheese immediately after eating sugar, a known contributor to tooth decay.” “Why cheese,” continues The New York Times, “should have such an effect is unknown.”
Bad News All Around
Since I am telling my own story, I must tell it the way it is, even though it puts me in a very bad light. But here is more bad news for you lovers of me. This news also incriminates my archrival, salt. It seems to be widely recognized that salt, or too much of it, plays a sinister role in contributing to high blood pressure. Now a recent report has it that the combination of sugar and salt may increase the danger.
According to researchers at the Louisiana State University Medical School, spider monkeys were put on three different diets. One was a standard nutritional diet designed for laboratory monkeys. The second was the same diet, but the monkeys were given additional salt. The third was like the second, with the same amount of salt, but with extra sugar added. Science Digest magazine of October 1980, which carried this report, tells the findings:
“All the animals were carefully tested during a three-week ‘base period,’ then divided into three groups; each group received one of the three trial diets for eight weeks. As expected, blood pressures rose in the animals who received additional salt. But, the team reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those monkeys fed extra salt and sugar had a significantly higher rise in their pressures.”
In addition to some of the things I have mentioned here, which I agree with, there are also a host of other medical ills that I am accused of, but that are not substantially proved. Controversies will no doubt continue until they are finally laid to rest one way or another.
In the meantime you should exercise moderation and balance in the foods and the amount of sugar you consume. The overuse of anything can make you ill and bring on a multitude of problems. I have my place in your daily diet if you will eat with good sense.
Also, remember, the Great God, Jehovah, who created me, led the Israelites into the Promised Land flowing with “milk and honey,” a form of sugar. That tells me I can’t be all bad. And when everyone worthy is sitting “under his vine and under his fig tree” in the paradise earth, why, I too will be there—in those sweet grapes and ripe figs!—Micah 4:4.
One pound = 0.453 kg.
[Blurb on page 10]
I am again the center of great controversies. Some say that I should be banned from the face of the earth forever. Others say that I am refined, sweet and needed, and not at all the villain I am accused of being
[Blurb on page 10]
I would be the first to say that more often than not the use of me is the abuse of me
[Blurb on page 11]
Are you not surprised that a package of processed gefilte fish, of all things, was found to have more sugar per serving than a piece of cake?
[Blurb on page 12]
Food manufacturers, in order to disguise the high percentage of sugar in foods, will list me under many different names
[Graph on page 9]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Sara Lee Chocolate Cake 36%
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate 51%
Sealtest Chocolate Ice Cream 21%
Cool Whip 21%
Coca Cola 9%
Quaker 100% Natural Cereal 24%
Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes 39%
Kellogg’s Apple Jacks 57%
Post Raisin Bran 55%
Wishbone French Dressing 23%
Wishbone Italian Dressing 7%
Wishbone Russian Dressing 30%
Shake’N Bake Barbecue Style 51%
Hamburger Helper 23%
Ragu Spaghetti Sauce 6%
Heinz Tomato Ketchup 29%
Skippy Peanut Butter 9%
Ritz Crackers 12%
Consumer Reports listed the percentage of sugar in these products, among others. Of course, quantities consumed determine the person’s actual sugar intake. For example, a teaspoonful of Cremora (57%) in a cup of coffee contains much less sugar than a bottle of Coca Cola (9%).