Sugar is made mainly of sugar beet or sugar cane in sugar refineries. At present, it is available in the form of cubes, powder, extra fine powder, etc. The entire world sugar production is about 160 million tons a year. However, excessive consumption of the common white sugar may cause health complications, and we are not only talking about obesity. That is why natural sweeteners have been becoming increasingly popular.
From the History of Sugar
Sugar is a sweetener that most people use fairly often and automatically. Man cannot live without carbohydrates, but can do without sucrose. European countries had not encountered sugar until Middle Ages; until then, bee honey was the main sweetener. Regions around China and Polynesia knew sugar cane at that time; people there chewed on its stems which tasted sweet. Sugar cane was probably processed into the form of sugar for the first time in India; from here, sugar traveled into China and then spread further to the West. The Portuguese spread the practice of growing sugar cane for sugar production to Azores, the Spanish to the Canary Islands and further also to the Caribbean. Until the 19th century, sugar was a fairly luxurious commodity; however, throughout the 19th century, an entirely new industry for sugar production and processing is born. In 1885, production of beet sugar outnumbered the worldwide cane production. Sugar became a common food.
The name "sugar" in European languages is derived from the Arabic sukkar. From the mid-19th century, sugar is a commonly available commodity in Europe and until the end of the 19th century; it was most frequently sold in poured loaves that were subsequently chopped into smaller pieces in households. White sugar is still the most frequently used sugar.
There is sometimes a problem with bad translation of the term "brown sugar" in the Czech Republic. This "brown sugar" is essentially identical to the white refined sugar. Many people confuse it with natural sugar thanks to its brown colour, but this sugar also goes through chemical processing. Molasses only forms coating around the crystals. It is not directly inside the crystals as it is in natural sugar. Natural sugar is called "raw sugar". It is also brown-coloured, but the colour is natural as it is not subject to whitening.
White sugar is the most frequently used sugar, but it is also stripped of all beneficial substances; it is a refined sugar. Refined sugar is whitened during the processing; this chemical procedure rids the sugar of all minerals and important vitamins and residual molasses.
Excessive Consumption of Sugar May Be Harmful to Our Health
Excessive sweetening and larger amount of refined sugar is not good for our body and it may cause various diseases. If you sweeten a lot, you can observe you feel fatigued and depressed more often, you have metabolic problems, more frequent occurrence of yeast infections and other problems. White sugar is attractive food for various micro-organisms, yeast plants and toxic substances. Sugar also steals calcium from our body; that may lead to problems with teeth. There is a wide range of adverse effects related to increased intake of sugar: it disrupts the immune system, contributes to obesity, causes haemorrhoids and constipation, it may also cause heart and blood vessel diseases, it increases the risk of intestinal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and stomach cancer, it may cause headaches and depressions, irritability and it also reduces brain capacity (e.g. in learning).
How to Substitute White Sugar?
You can replace refined white sugar either with non-refined natural sugar or by other natural sweeteners. The advantage of natural sweeteners in comparison to white sugar is that natural sweeteners retain valuable substances and no chemicals are used in their production. These sweeteners include various syrups (maple syrup, agave syrup, sweetleaf syrup), honey, sugar cane molasses, etc.
Use of dried fruits may be another interesting alternative. You can make dried fruits at home by yourself and you will be sure that there are no undesirable chemicals in your home-made product. Another alternative is carob. Carob is a great ingredient e.g. for cocoa that you need not sweeten any more. Carob is sweet enough by itself.
Natural Sugar (Raw)
This natural sweetener is usually made of sugar cane (but also of sugar beets) and it is not refined and therefore it maintain its natural brown colour (beware, though, for some sugars may be brown but they may still be white sugar, only coloured, e.g. by caramel). Non-refined sugar does not lose important substances such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and zinc, enzymes and vitamins of groups B and Z. Cane sugar also has more pronounced taste. Label saying "raw sugar" guarantees that molasses is directly inside the crystals - that is natural sugar. If you can afford to pick and choose, choose a type of sugar that is rather dark; these sugars usually have more minerals thanks to a higher amount of residual molasses.
Molasses - A Black Miracle
Molasses is a syrupy substance of dark or dark brown colour that is a side product in sugar production. It is also a natural sweetener. It contains a lot of trace dietary minerals and elements important for the body. Molasses is much more than a mere sweetener. It is rich in calcium and magnesium that are very well absorbable by the body from molasses. Furthermore, molasses contains phosphorus, iron, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper and chromium. It also contains glucose and sucrose, some vitamins, enzymes and unsaturated fatty acids.
Regular and long-term consumption of molasses leads to cleansing of the lymph system and to harmonization of the nervous system. It enhances blood production, it has positive influence on the cardiac muscle and it supports the body during long-term work stress, overall weakness and increased performance. Long-term consumption of molasses is also recommended for people recovering from various types of malignant tumours. By supplying children with molasses regularly, you ensure they get a wide range of substances important for their health, appropriate growth and development. It is also prevention against cancer and lifestyle diseases.
Grape sugar is glucose, which is a monosaccharide. It is a simple sugar that quickly releases into blood and it may serve as a ready energy source for muscles and the brain. In high strain, the sugar level in our blood drops which leads to performance deterioration and reduced concentration. This natural sweetener is especially suitable for dancers, sportspeople, people taking long treks or drivers and students. It is a good energy source for the ill and people suffering from loss of appetite. However, it is a mistake to use it as a sweetener; it has less energy than classic sugar and it is not generally advisable for people with diabetes or obesity to use it. Grape sugar is the most widespread monosaccharide and it is found mainly in grape vine or honey.
Stevia or Sweetleaf
Originally, South-American Indians used this plant. Stevia comes from the regions of South America around the Paraná river that traverses Paraguay and Brazil. Local Indians used this plant as a natural sweetener and as a healing plant against heartburn, for the oral cavity disinfection, as prevention against tooth cavities and many other health problems.
Europe was fairly skeptical towards stevia until quite recently, and it was used as a sweetener only in France. Since the 1970s, however, this natural sweetener came to use in Japan and South-East Asia as well.
In terms of food industry, stevia is an utterly harmless natural sweetener and it contains many substances beneficial for us. It is non-caloric and it has 200 or 300 times the sweetness of classic beet sugar. Apart from so called "stevisoids", fresh stevia plants also contain a high amount of vitamins (A, C, E, B, K), minerals (phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium, cobalt, selenium, silicon) and antioxidants that act preventively on our blood vessels in terms of sclerosis and malignant tumours. Furthermore, stevia does not increase the blood sugar level; it even helps stabilize it so it is a suitable sugar alternative for diabetics. That is why it is called sweetleaf.
In the next article, you will learn more about artificial sweeteners that occur in great amounts in commonly consumed products.