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When you think of all the foods you enjoy eating the most, there’s a very good chance that they all contain some form of sugar. It could be the sugar found naturally in fresh mangoes or crunchy apples, or the sugar added to your favourite dessert or ice cream. But what exactly is this nutrient that gives food that wonderful, yummy, and, of course, sweet taste?

What is Sugar?

Sugar is a form of carbohydrate, which is an important source of energy for the body. Other carbohydrate-rich foods include fruits, root vegetables (including potatoes), rice, noodles and bread. Before the carbohydrates in these foods can be used for energy, however, they must be digested and broken down into sugars.When we talk about sugar we usually refer to table sugar or sucrose, which comes primarily from sugar cane or sugar beet a large, pale brown root crop. Some kinds of sugar occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk.

There are various kinds of sugar, which include the sugars made by plants during photosynthesis, milk sugars and honey. Our bodies use all sugars in basically the same way, whatever the source, to provide us energy for life. Although there may be a whole range of substances that make up sugars, they all contain the same nutritional value i.e. approximately 4 calories or 16 kilojoules per gramme.

Here are number of different sugars:

  • Glucose - found in fruits, vegetables and honey   
  • Lactose - known as milk sugar
  • Maltose (malt sugar) - found in beer and malted drinks
  • Sucrose - comes from sugar cane or beet and is referred to as ‘table’ or ‘added’ sugar. It also occurs naturally in some kinds of fruits or vegetables
  • Fructose - found in fruits and honey

Types & Uses Of Sugar?

We use sugar in a variety of ways in our daily life. The most common form is granulated sugar, which is used to sweeten hot drinks and cereals. Sugar can also take on the form of cubes (made by pressing wet sugar into moulds before drying). The sugar we use for cakes and pastries - icing sugar - is made by grinding sugar crystals into a fine powder. Syrup is a liquid form of sugar.
Other kinds of sugar include:

  • Caster sugar - finer than granulated sugar and used for baking
  • Preserving sugar - coarser than granulated sugar and used for jams
  • Brown sugar - used for colour and flavour

Why Is Sugar Added To Food?

Most people enjoy the sweet taste of sugar. However, enhancing the sweetness of your meals is only one of the important roles sugar plays. It can also be used in a variety of ways:

  • To improve the texture and colour of baked goods. Sugar helps produce the moistness of cakes and the golden-brown colour and crispy texture of biscuits.
  • To speed up the process of fermentation (by yeast) in baking. This makes the dough rise.
  • To balance the sour taste of tomatoes in sauce, vinegar in achar and tamarind in assam gravies.
  • At the right concentration, sugar helps to stop microorganisms growing and prevents food spoilage e.g. in jams and other preserves.
  • As a bulking agent, sugar provides the characteristic texture to some foods - including ice creams, cakes and jams.
  • Sugar raises the boiling point and lowers the freezing point in certain recipes e.g. when making ice cream.

Sugar can do that?

Sugar is used by chemical manufacturers to grow penicillin. A spoonful of sugar in a vase will help flowers stay fresher longer.Sugar possesses antibiotic properties and is used to help in the healing of some types of wounds.

Sugar can be added to concrete to help the setting process. In the movies, stuntmen use bottles and plate glass windows made of sugar. A pinch of sugar on the tongue is a traditional remedy for hiccups. Sugar is used when tanning leather, in printers' inks and dyes and in textile sizing and finishing

How Does Sugar Fit Into A Healthy Diet?

Taken as part of a healthy, balanced diet, sugar can be enjoyed in moderation. Your body does not distinguish between the various types of sugar and thus treats them all in essentially the same way, whether they occur naturally in a food or are added.

A healthy diet should include a variety of different types of foods such as:

  • Cereals and cereal products
  • Roots and tubers
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes (peas and beans)
  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Dairy products

Some foods contain natural sugar (fruit and milk) while others may have sugar added (ice cream, cakes and biscuits). Added sugar can make nutritious foods more appealing. For example, a glass of lime juice, a bowl of soybean curd or a bowl of red bean soup often taste better with a little added sugar.

The Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has indicated that sugar can play a role in a healthy diet. However, if your energy needs are very low or you are overweight, you should go easy on the total calories consumed from all sources.

How Does The Body Use Sugar?

Sugar is an important source of energy. As there are no caloric differences between various types of sugar, the body uses sugar in essentially the same way.

During digestion, all carbohydrates, including sugars and starches (e.g. rice, noodles and bread) break down into single units of sugar, which, in turn, are converted to glucose. Glucose travels through the bloodstream to the body's cells to provide energy or is stored for future use. Glucose is the only nutrient that the brain and red blood cells can use for energy.

Does Sugar Make you Fat?

Weight gain results when a person regularly consumes more calories than he or she expends because almost all foods contain calories.

The energy content of food is measured in calories or kilojoules. Nutrients such as carbohydrate, protein and fat provide energy for the body. All carbohydrates, including sugars, provide 4 calories (16 kilojoules) per gramme. Protein provides the same amount. Fats provide 9 calories (37 kilojoules) per gramme while alcohol provides 7 calories (29 kilojoules) per gramme.

A lack of exercise also plays a significant role in an individual becoming overweight. If you want to lose weight, nutritionists recommend eating fewer calories from all sources and increasing physical activity.

Does Sugar Cause Diabetes?

Researchers have yet to discover why diabetes occurs. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that sugar does NOT cause it. A proper lifestyle, including regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight, helps reduce the risk of diabetes.

Recent nutritional guidelines from the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation state that most diabetics can enjoy moderate amounts of sugar each day as part of mixed meals.

 Does Sugar Cause Hyperactivity?

Eating sugar does NOT cause hyperactivity. In a recent study, researchers examined the effect of sugar on the behaviour of certain children, who were selected because their parents believed their kids reacted negatively to sugar. The study found no difference in the behaviour of these young ones when they ate higher-than-normal amounts of sugar compared to when they consumed diets low in sugar.

Research actually suggests that sugar tends to have a calming effect on both children and adults. This effect, however, could go unnoticed due to other influences, for instance, the excitement of a birthday party or festival, which could override the calming effect.

Does Sugar Cause Heart Disease?

Many lifestyle and hereditary factors play a role in the development of heart disease. These include obesity, a high intake of fat (especially saturated fats), a low intake of fruits and vegetables and a lack of exercise. Sugar, however, has NOT been identified as a risk factor for heart disease.