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Things to know, questions & tips on sugar

Without sugar, life would only be half as sweet. Is that really so? Sugar is one of the major topics in nutrition. There are books, media stories or field reports about sugar fasting. Books with titles such as "Sugar, the secret killer" (Anna Cavelius) or "Sweet death" by Gary Taubes make headlines. 

While fat was considered the number 1 fattener for many years, we now begin to find out that sugar is probably one of the major causes of adiposis. Too much sugar not only causes obesity, but it also makes us sick. Sugar is supposed to be responsible for caries, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease and many more. Moreover, sugar is also thought to make us dumb and stupid. 

Is sugar really that dangerous? If that's really true, why do we enjoy eating sweets so much? 

Four theories why we consume sweet foods
and why it is so difficult for many people to live without sweets

Theory 1:

The craving for sweets is innate 
The human fetus already takes up sugar with the amniotic fluid. Breast milk contains about 6 % lactose. This lays the foundation for our taste for sweets when we are adults. A sweet taste gives us the feeling of comfort and improves our mood. 

Theory 2:

Already our ancestors who lived as hunters and gatherer, included sweet berries and fruits in their daily diet. A good instinct was essential for survival following the general rule: „food that is sweet is not poisonous.” In addition, people who had access to energy-rich foods had a survival advantage over other people.

Theory 3:

Fuel for our brain
Sugar is an important source of energy. Our brain needs a lot of energy because it is in a constant growth phase throughout life. Since carbohydrate stores are limited, concentration often deteriorates when blood sugar levels fall below a certain concentration. The uptake of energy in the form of sugar quickly helps to compensate this.

Theory 4:

Sweets make you happy and lift the mood
With the uptake of sugar, tryptophan is transported into the brain. This amino acid is the precursor of the “happiness hormone” serotonin. It was verified, that the presence of this hormone-like messenger substance in our brain has a positive influence on our mood.

How can I reduce my sugar uptake?

Bernhard Munding has been a member of the German Young Chefs National Team for many years and was awarded three times the title "World Champion Chef". Today he manages the Adler Country Inn in the town of Frechenried in the Allgäu region and a catering business.    

For Rapunzel he compiled several tips how to reduce the sugar uptake in daily life. 
  • Do not try to wean yourself of sugar, but use sugar consciously!
  • Dilute sweet drinks with water.
  • Almost all recipes can be prepared with 20% less sugar.
  • It is better to drink a glass of water instead a glass of alcohol from time to time.
  • Read the nutritional information on food packages.
  • Avoid convenience products. As an example, you can easily prepare delicious salad dressings yourself!

Natural sweeteners
Nutty walnut dressing
Nutty walnut dressing

The top salad dressings
The top salad dressings

Hemp salad dressing
Hemp salad dressing

Often discussed: sugar and its effects

Questionable sweeteners

Since sugar has moved into the focus, a growing number of manufacturers, especially conventional food producers, offer sugar-reduced products. When you consume such products, make sure to take a close look at the list of ingredients: in many products, also in products that are designed for children, sugar is simply substituted by saccharin. Although saccharin sweeteners are low in calories, they may nevertheless enhance the craving for sweets. Normally, sweet taste signals the body that nutritious food will follow. If, however, sweets are not suceeded by nutritious food a ravenous appetite might develop - and all the calories that were saved with saccharin will be taken up again.  

Hidden sugar in food products

Sugar in processed foods has many different names. Be careful of ingredients that have -ose or -syrup in the final suffix, because these ingredients contain sugar. Glucose, fructose and maltose syrup are made with either corn, wheat or potato starch. Their caloric content resembles the caloric content of sugar. Dextrose is often industrially manufactured from starch. Maltrodextrin is made from starch and is a mixture of different carbohydrates. The descripton 'natural fruit sweetener' may sound healthy, but contains a mixture of glucose and fructose. Its effects can be compared to the effects of household sugar.  

Are all sugars the same?

How does refined white sugar differ from whole cane sugar or cane sugar that is also called raw cane sugar? Refined household sugar sweetens meals - that's all. White sugar has no minerals nor trace elements. Therefore we can easily dispense with it without suffering any deficiences.  

Rapadura whole cane sugar is made from sugar cane juice. For this process, the cleaned sugar cane is crushed. In the sugar mill, the crushed sugar cane is pressed and the resulting sugar cane juice is filtered and heated. The juice is stirred until it crystallizes and thickens. Next, the sugar cane juice is dried and ground. Rapadura is manufactured traditionally without refining. The natural ingredients and minerals that are found in the sugar cane are largely preserved. 

For the production of Cristallino cane sugar, the thickened sugar cane juice is crystallized through the addition of sugar crystals. Subsequent centrifugation separates the sugar crystals from the molasses. Some of the molasses remains in the product and gives the cane sugar its typical golden color. Cristallino cane sugar also contains many valuable sugar cane substances. 

Satisfying the appetite for sweets in a healthy way

There are many healthy alternatives that can satisfy the craving for sweets. Fresh or dried fruit for example - either pure as nibbles or with yoghurt, curd cheese or muesli. 
Alternative sweeteners made with fruit, flowers or with tree sap have many advantages compared to white sugar. They contain less sugar but taste sweeter than sugar, therefore they can be used more economically.

Coconut flower syrup and maple syrup contain the natural adjuvants maltol and ethyl maltol that enhance the sensation of sweetness. This also applies to fruit syrups with fructose, because fructose has the highest sweetening power. Apricot syrup is special - it has the lowest sugar content while still featuring a fruity sweetness. Its sweetness is due to the sorbitol concentration. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that tastes as sweet as xylitol (birch sugar) but has less calories (2.4 kcal/g) than an equal amount of sugar and/or sucrose (4 kcal/g). 

Compared to sugars like glucose and sucrose, the metabolization of sorbitol requires no insulin. Fruit sweeteners therefore have a much lower glycemic index than white sugar. 

The dosage is important

Sweets play an important role in our diet. When consuming sweets, the general rule applies: it depends on the dosage! That's why it is important to consume sugar consciously. Try not to give up sugar completely, but adapt your sugar consumption to your lifestyle - within the context of a well-balanced diet and in combination with sufficient exercise. If you follow this principle you may also treat yourself to sweets once in a while. 

With respect to sugar consumption, the measure is also decisive. The current figures of sugar consumption are mind-boggling, however: in 1950, the average German consumed 28.1 kg of sugar per year - today, this amount has risen to about 36 kg. Over the last 150 years, the sugar consumption has even increased twentyfold! 

The appetite for sugar grows

Since the 1990s, the percentage of overweight children has risen by 50 percent. The World Health Organization (WHO) speaks of a "obesity epidemic" and updated its guideline. In this guideline, the WHO recommends that the daily uptake of free sugar should amount to only 10 percent - or better even only 5 percent - of the total daily food intake. 5 percent equals 25 gram or 6 teaspoons. Free sugar describes the amount of sugar that is added to meals during preparation or cooking or that is added during food processing. Excluded are the sugar amounts that are naturally found in fruit, vegetables or milk. The new WHO guideline aims to stop the worldwide increase in obesity - and to lower the risk for diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. 

Sugar is a common ingredient in processed food products. In soft drinks, fruit yoghurt, bread, sausage, dips or convenience products - sugar can be found everywhere. Take a close look on the backside of the food packagings and study the nutritional value of a product, in order to find out about their real sugar contents.

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