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The World of Sugar

Reviewed by D Balasubramanian

Published : Saturday, 9 September, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 545

The World of Sugar

The World of Sugar

Sugar's societal dominance is a story of progress and a bitter-sweet tale of exploitation, racism, obesity and environmental destruction, a new book by Dr Ulbe Bosma finds�

This is the title of a recent book by Dr. Ulbe Bosma, (Harvard University Press., covered by Nature Briefing of August 4, 2023). The book talks about sugar's societal dominance as a recent development. Granulated sugar was made and eaten from the sixth Century in India. Indeed, Dr K.T. Achaya, in his book "Indian Food - a historical companion" points out that sugarcane was known in India since the times of the Atharva Veda (around 900 BC) and rock sugar (Guda or Gud in Hindi) since 800 BC.

Though granulated sugar was known since the sixth century, refined sugar became widely available in Europe only in the 19th Century. As the author points out, sugar's societal dominance is a story of progress and a bitter-sweet tale of exploitation, racism, obesity and environmental destruction.

Slave trade
The article "A history of sugar - the food that nobody needs, but everyone craves for" (The Conversation) discusses how sugar was produced in the Middle East, and during the colonial times by slaves in the West Indies, and in Brazil. There was a huge demand for labour to cultivate the massive sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. This need was met by?transatlantic slave trade, which resulted in around 12,570,000 human beings being shipped from Africa to the Americas between 1501 and 1867. Mortality rates could reach up to 25% on each voyage, and between one million and two million dead must have been thrown overboard. Thankfully, slave trade has since been abolished. Brazil and India remain top producers, but now nearly 30% of global sugar is made from sugar beet.

In India, we are all familiar with sugarcane, coarse and crystal sugar. We also have jaggery, also known as gud in Hindi, which is thought to be good for health. Today, people ask whether it is better to have freshly prepared sugarcane juice, sold by vendors, than crystal sugar bought in packed bags. The answer is yes, since it contains trace amounts of antioxidants and minerals that are lost during the refinement to sugar. The evaporation product of sugarcane juice, jaggery, is often touted as being "healthier" than other forms of sugar, since it has antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Health hazards
But we all know that too much of any form of sugar is bad for health. It can lead to diabetes, where excess sugar intake triggers the release of insulin in the bloodstream which can lead to vision loss, and diseases in the heart and kidney. This is why doctors suggest restrictions in the amount of sugars taken in. Type 1 diabetics have to inject insulin in their blood, while type 2 diabetics have to carefully manage their blood glucose, and use substitutes like steviol glycoside or sucralose. A recent company called Gene Clinic has come out with a device which sticks to your arm or abdomen just like a bandage, which you wear continuously. It tells you your glucose content, and when you have to consult your doctor, if needed.

Given all this, it is best to reduce the amount of sugar/sweets we consume. Best for our health.
Courtesy: THE HINDU

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