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Sugar: Candy Or Killer? - Buying Into The Hype

Updated on June 13, 2009

Has it then been firmly established that rising intake of sugar has precipitated the rise in the incidence of diabetes? No. Certainly Cohen's studies suggest as much and point toward the use of complex carbohydrates instead of refined sugar in the diet. However, it is not clear that sugar consumption in the United States has risen in parallel with the rise in diabetes. Even it if has, what has been observed in the United States and Israel is a correlation, not a cause and effect relationship. Perhaps both diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are on the rise because they are more often correctly diagnosed than formerly or because the incidence of other disease as tuberculosis and diphtheria has fallen. Perhaps the early diagnosis and treatment of diabetics is allowing them to live long enough to produce offspring who carry the genes for the disease, thus adding to the number of potential diabetics in the overall population.

Many nutritionists, however, disagree with the view that there may be a causal relationship between the consumption of sugar and the development of diabetes. They state that the cause of primary diabetes in man remains unknown and that there is no evidence that excessive consumption of sugar causes diabetes, even Type 2.

Significance cannot even be attributed to the correlation between rising sugar consumption and rising deaths from coronary heart disease. The true rate of individuals' consumption of sugar is still largely an unknown factor and that the rise in coronary heart disease deaths may be due to changes in medical diagnoses of the causes of death.

And while this inconclusive debate rages on, the third question concerning the value of sugar in the diet still needs to be answered.

Sucrose, in the process of metabolism, eventually becomes two molecules of glucose. Glucose is used for energy to power the body, an excess is stored as glycogen in the liver, ready to be later reconverted to glucose. If glucose is needed, then sucrose is not "physiologically worthless." The condemnation of sucrose probably came about because nutritionists' concern over obesity and the replacement of vegetables and fibrous grains by refined sugar in the U.S. diet. They are concerned that sugar may be a worthless addition to the diet of a person who is already overfed.

The term empty calories is often used to denote calories from foods which contribute no nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Some nutritionists object to the use of the term, since a large portion of the world's population is calorie poor. Still it is widely used. Soft drinks made of sugar and water are often referred to as junk foods. Meanwhile, the original question asked at the beginning of this article remains. And it seems that even after analysis we may be no closer to the true answer.

There is no reason to believe that sugar is in any way poisonous to the normal, healthy human being. Clearly, however, it may be associated with other factors that are harmful: obesity, the displacement of needed nutrients and fiber, and dental decay. If on these grounds you conclude that sugar is indeed to be avoided, it is important to recognize that other caloric sweeteners, such as honey, are no better. There has never been a medical study to prove that brown, or unrefined sugar is any more or less healthful than white refined sugar.

Notice should also be taken of the sugar that is hidden in many supposedly healthful products. The advertising industry would have us believe that some products provide an excellent replacement for a balanced meal. One such product, advertised as a substitute for breakfast, contains more sugar than any other single ingredient. Labeling laws require that food product ingredients be listed on the container in the order of their weight, with the ingredient in the largest amount listed first. In the breakfast substitute just mentioned, the order of the first three ingredients is sugar, vegetable shortening, water. The recommended serving contains 370 calories. For only 335 calories, a person could have 1/2 cup orange juice (60), a poached egg on toast (150), a pat of margarine (35), and a cup of skim milk (90). This breakfast has the added advantage of being high in protein, which would help to keep the blood glucose elevated for a longer period of time.

On the other hand, energy is the prime nutritional need of humans. Many countries of the world suffer severe malnutrition from an energy deficit. If sugar is available to make up this deficit, it may be a life-saving resource. If nutrients are otherwise adequate and dental hygene is observed, what harm can there be in getting needed energy from sugar?

There is ample evidence to indicate that the case against sugar may have been grossly overstated. Is sugar really the murderous poison that it has been made out to be, or just another natural nutrient which, like all other foods, is perfectly healthful if consumed in moderation? The choice is really up to you.

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    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks for the kind words. Your history is absolutely right. I'm sure that France would like to trade Guadeloupe for Canada now! Actually it might be kind of nice to have Canada in the EU! :)

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 

      9 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Excellent Hub. I like your balanced approach with the facts and your pointing out that sugar is needed for energy and that many people in poor nations suffer ill health due to lack of sugar in their diet.

      Looking at history, I remember one of my college history professors pointing out that the discovery and commercial cultivation of sugar cane following the European discovery of the New World resulted in a major improvement in health in Europe. I also remember reading in a history book somewhere that the West Indian islands where sugar cane was grown were so valuable economically to the European colonial empires that following the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War in the U.S.) England is reputed to have offered to give Canada, which England captured in the war and, as the victor, was awarded Canada in the peace treaty, back to France in exchange for the West Indian island of Guadalupe - France declined the offer concluding that one sugar producing island was more valuable than half of the North American continent.

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