White sugar is considered to be an essential ingredient in every kitchen. According to Ayurveda, every meal we eat should have six kinds of rasa – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy, and astringent.
Sweet taste is associated with the positive emotions of happiness, contentment, calmness, cheerfulness, love and satisfaction when eaten in appropriate amounts. In today's fast-paced world, money, fame and status define success more than anything. Your daily job demands long working hours, leaving you with unhealthy food choices that primarily include easily available fast food and ready-to-eat snacks. But are you aware that by eating fast food, you end up consuming five times more sugar than recommended in your daily intake? And that too in the form of white sugar! It's no more surprising to see people in their early thirties being diagnosed with diseases such as diabetes mellitus type 2, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, fatty liver, heart attack, and stroke.
Now latest scientific research has firmly established that increasing consumption of white sugar is responsible for modern-day chronic diseases.
Let's take a look at some of the health hazards associated with white sugar consumption:
1. Increased risk of Diabetes mellitus type 2, obesity, high blood pressure, high level of blood cholesterol, and fatty liver - these are all common ailments that now affect the younger population.
The carbohydrates in the food consumed are converted to glucose by the digestive system, which is then absorbed into the blood. Blood glucose stimulates the release of insulin hormone from the pancreas. Insulin facilitates the entry of glucose into cells which is converted to energy; this energy is utilized by the body tissues for their normal functioning. The excess unutilized glucose in the blood is then converted to glycogen and fat with the help of insulin, which is stored as a reserve in the liver and belly fat. Unrestricted dietary intake of white sugar over a long duration leads to constantly elevated blood glucose levels, which lead to hyperinsulinemia. Over time, body tissues develop insulin resistance and stop recognizing the insulin hormone. As a result, there is a lack of peripheral utilization of glucose and persistently elevated glucose levels, which signals the body to produce even more insulin. The body enters a vicious circle of hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia, the result of which is diabetes mellitus type 2, constant deposition of body fat, fatty liver and obesity. Fatty liver, if left untreated, leads to liver damage, cirrhosis and liver failure.
2. White sugar is acidic in nature and leads to gastric acidity with acid reflux disease, ulcers in the stomach, abdominal bloating, and intestinal worm infestation.
3. White sugar can impact mental health and lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, and sleep disorders. If you experience a lack of concentration and inability to focus at work, you might be dealing with 'brain fog', which may be the result of excess white sugar in your diet.
4. Persistently elevated blood glucose levels cross the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation in the brain, which leads to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. There is scientific evidence to suggest that children below five years of age who consume excess refined sugar in the form of candies, cookies and chocolates have shown learning disability, poor memory and delayed mental development.
5. Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, joint pains, lupus, celiac disease, Graves disease of the thyroid, ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis are also aggravated.
6. It also weakens the immune system and the body's capacity to fight infectious agents like viruses, fungi and bacteria. As a result, you may fall prey to frequent respiratory troubles like cough & cold, asthma, skin diseases like allergies, pustules & acne and wrinkles at a young age.
7. Dental caries and inflammation of gums (gingivitis).
8. It also increases the risk of developing various types of cancer in the body. Sugar acts as a fuel for the survival of cancer cells and helps them to multiply and grow.
Do you know how white sugar is manufactured?
First, sugarcane juice is extracted in the factory, which gives a natural brown colour to all the sugar derivatives like jaggery, Shakkar, Khand or raw sugar. Now to make this sugar look white, shiny and attractive, chemicals like sulphur dioxide and milk of lime are added, and the mixture is boiled at high temperatures till it takes the form of shiny white crystals of table sugar. Not only does this process depletes the essential minerals and micronutrients from sugarcane, but it also adds numerous chemicals to it, which are hazardous for human consumption.
The mechanics behind sugar cravings:
Ever wondered why everyone relishes sweets? Sweet taste initiates the release of dopamine neurotransmitters from your brain, which is the "feel-good chemical" and gives you a sense of contentment. But did you know that intake of addictive drugs such as cocaine also releases the same neurotransmitter in the brain, which imparts stronger cravings for the drug next time? When we frequently consume sugary foods, our brains adapt to requiring more sugar to reap the same rewarding feeling. In other words, the more sugar you consume, the more you want it. This is called extremely harmful sugar addiction, as white sugar has purely empty calories and gives rise to sharp peaks of glucose in the blood. This is one of the major reasons for the growing problem of obesity worldwide.
Avoid these sugary food products in the market:
All processed food items sealed in a packet like biscuits, cookies, bread, cakes, pastries, ice creams, chocolates, ready-to-eat cereals like corn flakes, juice boxes, aerated drinks- have heavy quantities of refined sugar added to them, which makes them addictive in nature. It is tempting to binge-eat these products as the added sugar increases your appetite instantly and makes you feel good.
The sugar enters the blood and is converted to glucose, sucrose or fructose. Sucrose is further broken down into glucose and fructose. Now out of these three molecules, glucose is rapidly converted to energy which is utilized by the body tissues for their functioning, while fructose is the most harmful for the human body. It causes inflammation in blood vessels and is converted to fats and triglycerides, giving rise to high blood cholesterol, fatty liver, diabetes, heart attack and stroke. Most ready-to-eat processed food products, especially sugary drinks, have heavy quantities of high fructose corn syrup.
Instead of snacking on artificial factory-made products, one should choose natural, unprocessed food products like fibre rich fruits and whole grains, dates, nuts, cow milk & its derivatives like desi ghee, which have their own natural sweet flavour. These are packed with micronutrients, minerals, vitamins, fibre and antioxidants, which is essential for the body and provides complete wholesome nutrition.
Raw sugar (Khand), mishri, shakkar and jaggery are some of the easily available healthier alternatives to table sugar that can be added to tea, coffee and summer squashes. Honey is also rich in micronutrients, but it should not be added to boiling hot drinks; if needed, it can be taken in lukewarm water. According to Ayurveda, white sugar is considered rajasic and tamasic in nature, creating dullness, depression and ignorance in mind, while natural sugars like jaggery and honey are considered sattvic.
Being watchful and aware of your food choices today can save you from serious health issues tomorrow.