Sugar, as we now know, is in almost everything we eat. We don’t seem to be satisfied by the natural sugars in our food and we reach for the sugar bowl to make our dishes just that bit sweeter. It is widely considered to be the number one addiction, well ahead of alcohol, gambling, tobacco and drugs. It goes without saying that it is a major industry generating huge profits for sugar manufacturers. The question as to why we need so much sugar is not the central issue in this article but it is worth taking up. All addictions are substitutes for something we lack in our lives and sugar is evidently a strong contender for our unsatisfied desires and wishes.
The natural sugar in almost all foodstuffs is not to be ignored either as excess could lead to serious health problems like diabetes, heart problems and cancer. Very serious issues emerge when we add synthetic sugars and sweeteners to everything we consume. However, some sweeteners are more harmful than others. High-intensity sweeteners are amongst these. These are substances with many times the sweetness of ordinary white table sugar. They tend to be mixed with other compounds to produce a more natural sugary taste. This is often used in soft drinks that are sometimes labelled “diet” or “light”. The objective is to achieve a natural sugary flavour and texture.
In the United States, there are seven sugar substitutes approved for consumer use. These are stevia, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin and advantame and their apparent safety is based on detailed reviews of extensive clinical studies over several years.
Sugar substitutes are used to replace sugar for several reasons:
– Weight loss. Some believe that by replacing sugar with sweeteners, they can consume their usual foods so allowing them to lose weight because they reduce excess calories.
– Sweeteners can reduce tooth decay while sugar becomes acid which affect teeth negatively.
– Diabetes. Sweeteners allow sweet tasting foods while not increasing glucose levels.
– Cost. Sugar substitutes tend to be cheaper and last longer than sugar.
Industry is gradually replacing sugar with sugar substitutes, but at the same time this hasn’t affected profits substantially. In the USA, it is a growing market. However, sweeteners are not the same as sugar substitutes. Neither are they thoroughly safe for human consumption, despite the contrary claims of the food industry which invests millions of dollars annually to convince consumers that health risks are almost undetectable and there is no need for alarm.
So, why is there so much concern about sugar and its substitutes in recent times? One of the reasons is the growing obesity in Western nations. Sugar and sweetening in itself is certainly addictive and leads to higher food consumption. We want more sugar/sweetener so we eat more. Advertising with terms such as “low sugar”, “artificial sweeteners”, “diet” don’t really help. On the contrary, people may consume more because they believe it won’t affect their stomach bulge.
Another factor is the type of food people eat and which generally contains sugar/sweeteners. A simple “healthy” orange juice can be as much as 70% sugar, for example. So-called “diet drinks” may have a little less and they will certainly not contribute to weight loss. The recent tax on beverages in Catalonia, Spain won’t probably make people drink less but it should raise awareness on sugar’s harmful effects.
Of course, sugar is not the only cause of weight increase. There are others like unhealthy lifestyles, lack of regular exercise, genetic factors and so on. Sugar is beginning to be regarded as a silent killer much like high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are partially due to abusive sugar intake. So, to be sure, go easy on the sugar pot, drink water to quench your thirst on a hot summer’s day and take a regular good, long walk at least once a day!
Happy English learning!!