Sugar: Candy Or Killer?
Is sugar really the villain it's said to be?
Sugar was once seen as a generally beneficial nutrient which held a virtual monopoly when it came to sweetening all types for foods, from cookies to cereals. In the '40s the first warnings were sounded by the dental profession, which had conclusively linked sugar consumption with the occurrence of dental caries. By the '60s, the medical community had chimed in, with a crescendo of warnings that sugar was responsible for a wide range of disorders, all the way from obesity to hyperactivity to serious cardio-vascular problems.
By the beginning of this decade, sugar had been firmly placed in the "villain" category. The very word "sugar" was being dropped from almost all food packaging. (Remember Super Sugar Crisps or Sugar Frosted Flakes?)
A mind-boggling .array of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and cyclamates were being introduced onto the market, most of them accompanied by equally dire health warnings stating that they were carcinogenic.
Interestingly enough, consumer surveys show that the failure of artificial sweeteners to completely take over the market from sugar was not related to the health warnings, but to their often unpleasant aftertaste. Although artificial sweeteners have come a long way from saccharine and some of the newer ones such as the brand names Splenda and Stevia have very little aftertaste to many consumers, the stigma lives on.
An anti-sugar bias was soon adopted by millions of Americans, some of whom would rather eat cyanide than white sugar, and the flames of the no-sugar crusade were fanned by best-selling books such as "Sugar Blues".
But does sugar deserve the bad rap it's been getting, or is it just another case of public hysteria just based on incomplete medical studies and haphazard scientific conclusions?
This heated battle over the role of sugar is also being waged in health literature, with nutritionists squaring off against each other armed with reams of befuddling statistics, meaningless public health charts and idiotic correlations between infantile sugar consumption and adult white-collar crime.
But behind this medical circus there are some valid questions which should be the main focus of the debate:
- How much sugar do Americans consume?
- Is the consumption of sugar a causative factor in the rising incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases?
- Is sugar a physiologically worthless substance, a contributor of empty calories?
It is important that we understand the term sugar in the context of this discussion. Sugar in the normal household usage refers to the disaccharide sucrose. It may appear in any of its various forms: white, granulated table sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, syrups, or sugar used in the preparation of food products, such as cakes, cookies, candy, soft drinks, or alcoholic beverages.
Some areas of agreement appear in the debate. For one thing, it is known that obesity correlates with both diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Obesity has become a prime health problem in this country largely because we are exercising far less than any previous generation. Excess caloric intake from any energy source, including sugar, can only exacerbate this problem. One 12-ounce fruit flavored carbonated soft drink, for instance, contributes about 170 calories. Anytime a person consumes about 3500 calories in excess of need, a pound of fat is produced. In other words, if we drink two colas a day in excess of our energy requirements, we will gain one pound every 10 days.