Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sugar - The Sweet, Slow Poison

Today's update is about our sweet and lovely sugar. Let us first try to understand,

Why Sugar is so dear to us?

Sugar plays a very important role in daily lives of Indians. India is a country of colors and sweets. You cannot imagine a festival in India without these two. I may not be wrong if I say tons of sweets were sold during major festive days in one single day. Whether it is a festival, a birthday, marriage day, house warming or any other festive occasion the celebration is not complete without a sweet dish.

Many Governments in India are providing sugar as an essential household commodity under their public distribution schemes. It hits the national headlines as and when the sugar prices soar up. People get frustrated and curse the authorities for their failure in bringing the prices down. The Government immediately comes into action and import sugar from different parts of the country and supply to its people through public distributions scheme.

Let us analyze why sugar is so dear to Indian people. Indians are very fond of chai an Indian version of Tea. On an average an Indian drinks 4 cups of tea a day. It is a part of their daily intake. There are people who need chai even before they cleanse their bowels and some before brushing their teeth. Some people can't work in the office without having couple of teas during work hours. And tea without sugar? Yuck! is the reaction of every tea lover. Is it not?


Children don't drink milk or their health drinks without sugar. The manufacturers of health drinks come to the rescue of the mothers. Why do you worry our dear mothers when we are here. We are now providing the health drinks with added sugar. You don't have to add anymore. You simply serve them ready made. So the mother and child both are happy.


People prefer to drink soft drinks rather than the juices made of fruits. The reason, the kick one gets from added flavor and sugars in soft drinks. Soft drink companies are competing in providing the kick needed by the consumers bringing more and more flavors and sweetener.  In addition to that our celebrity sports and movie stars come to their rescue by promoting these soft drinks.


If you give freshly prepared fruit juice to your children without adding sugar, they make faces while drinking it. It is no different for adults either. Even they prefer to drink juices made in the market. The juice makers in the market offer fruit juices adding sugar content in it.

Even the tooth paste and medicines are not left untouched by sugar. Remember these are apart from the sugar we consume in the form of sweets, desserts, chocolates, cakes, biscuits and other fast food, bakery and confectioneries.


In some parts of the country the food isn't considered complete without having a sweet or dessert after and some before meals. Sugar is so dear to us.

One man standing against the use of Sugar:

Amidst all this love for sugar, a man called Dr. Mantena Satyanarayana Raju stands up against it and claims that sugar is a sweet poison. Avoid sugar completely from your life. Don't give any room for sugar in your Kitchen if you want to lead a healthy life.

How dare is he? How can I enjoy life without eating all these sweets and desserts? How can I live without a cup of tea? How the children grow when they don't have their health drinks? Is he crazy? He must have gone nuts, is the prime reaction of people on Dr. Raju. He is trying to rescue people from health hazards and what he gets in return, the blame. This reminds me one famous quote by our yoga teacher Prashant S Iyengar during one of his classes in Pune. He said, "I am trying to make you sane and you are making me insane". This is completely true in case of Dr. Raju as well. He is trying to make people sane but people made him insane. If you ask a group of people to drink tea without sugar as Dr. Raju recommends it, then 9 out of 10 people would say that he is insane.

When something new is said, nobody is going to believe. So far the doctors have said to reduce the level of sugar consumption and that too after a person becomes a victim of sugar. This man Dr. Raju ask you to stop consuming sugar completely weather you have become a victim or not. His teaching is very clear prevention is better than cure. That is why he appears a villain in the minds of sweet lovers. But gradually people will understand in the due course of time and is already happening now. People following Dr. Raju is now increasing tremendously. The popularity of our facebook page on Dr. Mantena is a proof of that.

Let us now try to understand why Dr. Raju considers sugar a sweet poison. Before this let us try to know what World Health Organization says about sugar consumption and where do we stand in the list of sugar consumers of the World.

WHO recommends maximum daily intake of 25 grams of sugar. That's about 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. If you are taking coffee with sugar, you are already in a problem area, depending on how many cups a day you drink. But sugar is contained in plenty of foods that we consume. For instance, one tablespoon of ketchup has 4 grams of sugar, One can of Red Bull energy drink has 27 grams of sugar, a can of Coca Cola has 39 grams and a small bottle of Mounain Dew 27 grams. One pastry of Pop Tarts has 34 grams of Sugar, Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll has 55 grams. Looking at these facts, it seems very hard to stay within WHO limits.

Where do we stand in Sugar Consumption?

While writing this blog I was of the opinion that India might be standing upright in the list of sugar consumers in the World. I googled upon to find out the facts and it took me by surprise. India is listed among the least sugar consumers of the World. This information over internet put me in a bit of thought. How can it be in the bottom of the table when we consume so much sugar in our day to day life? I then tried to understand the lifestyles of people listed in high sugar consuming countries and India. On going through some of the data by World Health Organization I got these shocking revelations:

The United States of America remained the undisputed champion and number one in the list of 11 countries that consume most sugar in the World in a survey conducted by an international health Agency. Average American consumes 126.4 grams of sugar  a day which is 5 times more sugar than WHO recommendation. It is then followed by Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Mexico, Finland, Canada and Austria.

The country that consumes least sugar is China. Asian cuisine requires sugar to be put in majority of their dishes, opposed to Western cooking, where it is mostly reserved for desserts and drinks. This can make it harder for them to precisely monitor sugar intake. Still, there isn't a single Asian nation on our list of 11 countries that consume the most sugar in the World. It seems they don't have a problem with it.

The Indians need not cheer by not finding themselves on the list of most sugar consumers in the World. Majority of these countries listed above are consuming sugar in the form of soft drinks, colas,  chocolate, cake and candies. It is still astonishing me as the consumption of all these items are also high in India. It took me some time to understand that India is a country with 70% of population in rural areas where you find a distinct lifestyle than urban India. I must say, rural India is thankfully untouched by Western lifestyle to great extent. It is this 70% saved India from being on the list of high sugar consuming countries. It doesn't mean they don't consume sweetener. The do but it's not the sugar. You will understand what they consume at later stage of this blog.

Is really Sugar a sweet poison?

Let us first analyze how the brown sugar cane turns into white table sugar. It needs heating process at different levels which removes the fiber completely. Any sugar minus fiber is not considered good for health. Many binding agents are added to make it firm, anti- oxidants to stop from melting, preservatives to safe guard from bacteria, soluble agents to melt in mouth or water, coloring agents to provide shining white color and many other chemicals during the process of manufacturing. You can watch the entire manufacturing process in youtube to know more in detail.

Excessive sugar in the diet is not the best idea when it comes to healthy living. Nonetheless, few of us are consuming sugar in moderate amounts and most of us are eating tons of it. In fact, worldwide we are consuming about 500 extra calories a day from sugar. Most people know that sugar is not good for them, but for some reason they think the risk of excess sugar consumption is less than that of having too much saturated and trans fat. Here are few things that may surprise you about sugar.

1. Leads to Obesity:

Is sugar a sweet old friend that is secretly plotting your demise? There is a vast see of research suggesting that it is. Science has now shown us, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that sugar in your food, in all its myriad of forms, is taking a devastating toll on your health.

More than terrorists America is terrified by the increasing number of obese people. The single largest source of calories for Americans come from sugar - specifically high fructose corn syrup.
Sugar is loaded into your soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks and hidden in almost all processed foods from sauce to cheese spread and now most infant formula has the sugar equivalent of one can of coca-cola, so babies are being metabolically poisoned from day one of taking formula. No wonder there is an obesity epidemic in this country. Today 32% of Americans are obese and an additional one-third is overweight.

Obesity is not a matter of concern for only the Americans but all the developed and developing nations across the World now. The problems of obesity rates dramatically increase in countries that are undergoing economical development. Rural workers moving to urban areas perform less physical labor and supplant traditional low fat diets that include local goods with processed diets that are high in fat and sugar.

As per WHO reports, China and India have relatively low percentages of overweight adults 28.9% and 16% respectively. But obesity and its potential complications are increasing there at unparalleled speed due to the growth of urban populations and an expanding middle class who can afford richer food in greater quantities than their rural counterparts.

2. Specifically promotes belly fat:

Adolescent obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years and childhood obesity rates have doubled. Many of us are aware of the data that demonstrates just how literally big our future is looking, but beyond the studies and all the initiatives to curb childhood obesity, one needs to visit an amusement park, school or mall to truly see what is happening. A 2010 study in children found that excess fructose actually caused visceral fat cells to mature - setting the stage for a big belly and even bigger future risk of heart diseases and diabetes.


3. Damages your Heart:

 A study in 2013 in the Journal of the American Heart Association displayed strong evidence that sugar can actually affect the pumping mechanism of your heart and could increase the risk of heart failure. The findings specifically pinpointed a molecule from sugar (as well as from starch) called glucose metabolite, glucose 6-phosphate (G6P) that was responsible for the changes in the muscle protein of the heart. These changes could eventually lead to heart failure. Approximately half of the people that are diagnosed with heart failure die within 5 years.

4. Kills you Silently:

Move over salt and hypertension, you have got competition. Sugar, as it turns out, is just as much of a silent killer. A 2008 study found that excess fructose consumption was linked to an increase in condition called leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that tells you when you have had enough food. The problem is, we often ignore the signal our brain sends to us. For some people though, leptin simply does not want to work, leaving the person with no signal whatsoever that the body has enough food to function. This in turn can lead to over consumption of food and consequently, obesity. Why the silent killer? Because it all happens without symptoms or warning bells. If you have gained weight in the past year and can't quite figure out why, perhaps you should look at how much fructose you are feeding your body.

5. Leads to Diabetes:

In the world of nutrition, it's hard to talk about sugar without talking about insulin. That's because insulin is sugar's little chaperone to the cells, and when too much of it is consumed or our insulin does not work (probably because we are eating too much of sugar) and the body revolts. This condition is called a diabetic condition or popularly known as sugar disease in India.

6. Sugar and alcohol have similar toxic effects on Liver:

A 2012 paper in the journal Nature, brought forth the idea that limitations and warnings should be placed on sugar similar to warnings we see on alcohol. The authors showed evidence that fructose and glucose in excess can have a toxic effect on the liver as the metabolism of ethanol- the alcohol contained in alcoholic beverages and similarities to the metabolic pathways that fructose took. If you think that your slim stature keeps you immune from fructose causing liver damage, think again. A 2013 study found that liver damage could occur even without excess calories or weight gain.

8. Sugar may sap your brain power:

When I think back on my childhood, I remember consuming more sugar than I probably should have. Children do love chocolates, candies etc. The Chocolate manufacturers make every effort to attract children by giving different flavors and colorful wrapper packing. A 2009 study found a positive relationship between glucose consumption and aging of our cells. Aging of the cells consequently can be the cause of something as simple as wrinkles to something as dire as chronic diseases. It is further found that excess sugar consumption leads to deficiencies in memory and overall cognitive health.

People know sugar consumption is not healthy for life but still falling prey to this silent killer. One of the reason is that we lack awareness of the quantity of sugar we consume as it is coming in various hidden forms. Before drinking a soft drink, tea or coffee no one knows how much sugar is added in it. Off course, you can ask the tea maker to reduce the sugar in your tea but there are many processed products we consume a day where you have no choice but to accept as it comes.

This article is an attempt to bring into light the hidden facets of sugar. Therefore, I started the blog on sugar in a friendly note and then tried to expose the hidden facts of this sweet friend called sugar which poisons our life slowly without our knowledge.

On a final note, it's important to point out that simple sugars from milk (in the form of lactose) don't display the same negative health effects that we see in the literature when reviewing sugar's effects on the body. Simple sugars from fruit are also less concerning given their high amounts of diseases fighting compounds and fiber.

So now you know and knowing perhaps can create action. You can do something about decreasing your overall sugar consumption without feeling deprivation or sheer frustration! That will be the focus of my next blog. Stay tuned.

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