Monday, November 19, 2012


Here I go again challenging another food essential.  Over the years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with sugar and not really known what to do about it.  I’ve tried to summarise my reading over the past years and now I’ve spent the last few days researching a bit more.  I hope this newsletter is interesting and helpful. 

We’ve been created with a taste for sweetness and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Actually the Latin word ‘frui’ is the root of our English word ‘fruit’ and means ‘enjoy.’1   Sweetness is something to be enjoyed.  We can get quite addicted to sugar though, and food manufacturers understand this very well.  Sugar tastes good but it’s not good for you – let me tell you why.

Refined sugars require many B vitamins to help in their digestion and utilisation in our bodies.  However, all naturally occurring carbohydrate foods contain an abundance of B vitamins and fibre. Our bodies can assimilate these natural sugars well.  Unfortunately, what’s wrong with the stuff we call ‘sugar’ is that when we refine sugar cane or beet we also remove the B vitamins and fibre during the processing.  Our bodies then have to find these B vitamins from somewhere else.

A story is told by William Duffy in the book Sugar Blues (see Wikipedia) about the survivors of a ship wreck on a distant island, carrying a cargo of sugar.  The sailors ate only sugar and drank water for the nine days they were stranded.  Their rescuers found them surprisingly sickly and weakened.  The poor health of the sailors was attributed to the severe deficiencies in B vitamins caused by their sugar diet.

We’re talking about sugar here, and by the way I don’t only mean white sugar I also mean soft brown sugar, raw sugar, Demerara sugar, dark cane sugar and golden syrup and possibly other sugars like turbinado and muscovado .  One assumes, and we are lead to believe, that they’re less refined, but there’s much refining that goes into removing the ‘raw’ sugar juice from the cane.

Here are some descriptions of the various sugars available in NZ.  The list runs from best to worst:
  1. Rapadura is the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane (using a press), which is then evaporated over low heats, whilst being stirred with paddles, then seive ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at high heats, or spun to change it into crystals, and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar.  It is produced organically, and does not contain chemicals or anti-caking agents.  Rapadura is a wholefood product which can vary according to sugar cane variety, soil type and weather. This is why one batch of Rapadura may be lighter or darker than the last batch. Because Rapadura is not separated from the molasses, it contains more nutrients, vitamins and minerals. In baking use cup for cup instead of sugar. 2
  2. Sucanat, which is a trade name, (a contraction of "Sucre de canne naturel") is different to Rapadura in that the sugar stream and the molasses stream are separated from each other during processing, then re-blended to create a consistent product, whereas Rapadura is a whole food product.  
  3. Jaggery, which I grew up with as a child in India, can be made with either whole cane sugar or palm sugar.  It is also heated to higher temperatures than Rapadura, as much as 200 degrees C.  Jaggery, with its caramel flavour, is solidified and formed into cakes. We often see this sugar here in NZ; it comes from Fiji and is sold in solid brown cakes in island shops and is grated for use.
  4. Muscavado, Turbinado, Demarara and 'Organic Raw Sugar' are all refined sugars, though not quite as highly refined as white sugar. They are the products of heating, clarifying, then dehydrating the cane juice until crystals form, then spinning it in a centrifuge so the crystals are separated from the syrupy juice (molasses). The clarifying process is usually done with chemicals, although sometimes through pressure filtration.  The crystals are then reunited with some of the molasses in artificial proportions. The molasses contains vitamins and minerals, and is recommended for a healthy diet, but the crystals themselves are pretty much 'empty carbs.'
  5. 'Raw' sugar is not really raw - it has been cooked, and a lot of the minerals and vitamins are gone. Some people choose this sugar as it’s minimally better than refined sugar because it has a little of the molasses still clinging to the sugar crystals.  Some sugar is sold as 'organic' raw sugar, and people think this means it's unrefined - all it really means is that it's grown with organic agricultural methods, then refined as usual... the juice (molasses) has been mostly removed, and there's not really much goodness in it.
  6. White sugar is refined much further.  The raw sugar is washed with a syrup solution, then with hot water, clarified (usually chemically) to remove impurities, decolourized, concentrated, evaporated, re-boiled until crystals form, centrifuged again to separate, then dried.  By then any lingering goodness has completely disappeared! A short video about how  sugar is made in NZ:  Crystallised refined sugars are pure sucrose and contain no nutrients beyond calories. They are a "pure" industrial product, and can hardly be considered a food. Some would say they are closer to a drug, which affects our bodies adversely and is very addictive. Not only do they not give anything beneficial to our bodies, they actually take away from the vitamins and minerals in what we are eating. They are extremely acidic to the body causing calcium and other mineral depletion from bones and organs. People who get headaches from eating refined sugars usually find they have no problem with Rapadura.
  7. Brown sugar is just white sugar mixed with molasses.
  8. Corn Syrup: A combination of sucrose and fructose.  Highly processed and contains no nutrition at all apart from empty calories.  A liquid derivative of corn starch, that is primarily the sugar called glucose. It is used extensively in the manufacture of processed foods and beverages in the US and increasingly so in NZ.  Many Maple Syrups are made using not maple syrup but corn syrup and maple flavouring.  Honey and brown rice syrup are good substitutions for corn syrup.
  9. Maltodextrin  Foods that contain maltodextrin are often labelled “Low Sugar” or “Complex Carbohydrate” which sounds good, but this sweetener should be avoided.
  10. Artificial sweeteners:  Nutrasweet, and such like, now sold in NZ, contain the sweetener aspartame. One of the components of aspartame is aspartic acid, a neurotoxin.  Another component is phenylalanine and a final component, wood alcohol, a generalised toxin, particularly harmful to the brain and eyes.3 Aspartame is often present in chewing gums, which causes concern as the cells of the mouth readily absorb the chemicals that are partly digested in our mouths through chewing.  Watch out for it in sugar free soft drinks as well.

Admit it, you're addicted to sugar just like the rest of us; if you don’t believe you are then go on a sugar fast and see how long it takes before the cravings kick in.  Our addiction doesn’t really want to accept the truth about sugar.  I’d have to say I keep avoiding it because I come up against resistance in myself and my family.  I know all this stuff, but now I need to put it into action.

The conclusion we’ve come to is that the best option is to avoid refined sugar as much as possible.  We can replace it with less-processed sugars like date puree, Rapadura sugar, raw honey, stevia and so on (more on this in the next newsletter).

One of the steps we’ve taken recently is to toss out our refined sugar from the pantry and now I make a kilo or so of date puree each week.  I keep this in jars in the fridge.  We use this in meals like curries that call for a touch of sweetening, on porridge or muesli in the morning, and in some baking.  I’m working on trying some other sweeteners and experimenting with ideas.

I had so much to put in this newsletter – overflowing with information - that I’ll save some for next week.  Then you can have a look at the alternative sweeteners available in NZ and I’ll give you some ideas for baking so that children can enjoy making sweet things in the kitchen that are better for them than white-flour-and-sugar cakes and biscuits.  If you have any recipes to contribute then send them to me over the week.

The idea is to eat your food:
  • as whole or as unprocessed as possible
  • as fresh as possible
  • and to avoid addictions
If we care about maintaining good health we’ll realise that our time and the cost of investing for the long term is worth it.

Like you, trying not to be fanatical, but wise!

1 & 3:  Rex Russell M.D,  What the Bible Says about Healthy Living, Regal Books, California, 2006
2:  17.11.12  Some info about sugars

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