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Sugar, a Trick or a Treat?

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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Sugar, a Trick or a Treat?

Anastasia Michals

As parents walk the streets with their children going door-to-door trick or treating, do they realize the severity behind this celebration of collecting refined sugar? As enthusiastic citizens donate king size Snickers to the cause, do they believe they are making a five year old's dreams come true, or are they aware that cavities and weight gain will result from their kindness? As children dump out their night's accomplishments onto the kitchen floor do they realize that consuming all that candy could result in diabetes? Halloween, although fun, could lead to future problems for all participants. Why aren't there police patrolling the streets trying to stop all the madness that occurs on this one night? How could there be a holiday celebrating the decay of humans everywhere? If sugar is really that bad for you, why do children and adults everywhere enjoy it so much? The truth must be out there somewhere.

The sweet truth behind sugar is that it really isn't as bad as the "experts" make it out to be (1). Sugar is a compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen belonging to a class of substances called carbohydrates. Sugars fall into three groups: the monosaccharides, disaccharides, and trisaccharides. The monosaccharides are the simple sugars, which include fructose and glucose (2). Although our bodies require glucose for energy, we do not need to consume simple sugars in order to obtain it. Complex carbohydrates, for example cereals, breads, fruits and vegetables, provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber in addition to glucose for energy (1). Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy (3) . From this information it is essential to realize that sugar plays an important role in the body's ability to function. Knowing this, it is time to break through some of the popular myths behind sugar consumption.

The most common myth surrounding sugar is probably that it causes hyperactivity. Hyperactivity is excessive physical activity of emotional or physiological origin, usually seen in young children, which is one of the components of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The cause of ADHD is unknown, although there appears to be a genetic component in some cases. Intake of sugars, preservatives, and artificial flavorings is no longer considered to be a factor. In most cases, sugar and carbohydrates seem to have calming effects on children (1). Birthday parties or other holidays like Halloween where children receive candy could be cause for much excitement. It has been shown that people with ADHD have less activity in areas of the brain that control attention. Treatment usually includes behavioral therapy and emotional counseling combined with medications (4).

A second myth needing correction is that sugar causes diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disorder of glucose (sugar) metabolism caused by inadequate production or use of insulin, a hormone produced in specialized cells in the pancreas that allows the body to use and store glucose. The lack of insulin results in an inability to metabolize glucose, and the capacity to store glycogen (a form of glucose) in the liver and to transport glucose across cell membranes are impaired. Diabetes is the result of many factors including genetics and lifestyle (1). In order to lead a healthy life, diabetics control the amounts of sugar intake in order to maintain a healthy weight and will take medication if required to control blood sugar levels. It is true that diabetics are unable to utilize the sugar in their diet, but sugar itself is not the cause of the disease.

Myth number three lingers in many of the conversations that occur between the Weight Watchers walls and many body conscience individuals. It seems that many misinformed dieters believe that sugar causes weight gain. Correcting this one idea may be the key to their success. When our body takes in more energy (calories) than it can use, it stores this unused energy as fat, which leads to weight gain. There is not one individual food that alone causes weight gain since all foods contain calories. Many sugars contain similar amounts of calories as most other carbohydrates and proteins. Also, it is interesting to note that since more "sugar free" items have taken over the shelves in supermarkets, there has been a rise in obesity numbers in the United States. "Overweight and obesity are among the most pressing new health challenges we face today," says U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "Our modern environment has allowed these conditions to increase at alarming rates and become a growing health problem for our nation" (5). The key point to understand is that sugar is part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Rather than imposing restrictions on certain groups of foods, it is more important to enjoy all foods while "emphasizing whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein and dairy products" (1).

Many individuals claim that the cause of sugar intake is sparked by sugar addictions. Not possible, claim many sugar experts (6). The term may be used loosely to explain away a so-called "sweet tooth," but an addiction is defined as either an emotional or physical dependence or both, characterized by symptoms of withdrawal. That doesn't happen with sugar or any other carbohydrate. Therefore, it is impossible to be addicted to food. Foods containing sugar and carbohydrates may be viewed as comfort foods. Emotional people may find enjoyment in eating these types of foods when experiencing sadness or frustration.

It is of the belief today that foods high in sugar are bad for you. For example, chocolate, since it is considered candy, is thought of as empty calories with no nutritional value. Recent studies suggest that certain forms of chocolate have health benefits however. This guilty pleasure contains many fats that are good for the body. According to a Hershey study some milk chocolate products contain conjugated lion oleic acid also known as CLA. This trans fat is believed to fight cancer in animals. A second study by the Nestle Research Center found that a change in dark chocolate might help lower cholesterol. Results showed that ten men fed the dark chocolate experienced a drop of 15% in their low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Another study at University of California, Davis found evidence of phenolics in chocolate. Phenolics are the same chemicals found in red wine that helps lower the risk of heart disease. They reduce the oxidation of LDL preventing it from creating plaque in the arteries (7). Overall, from these studies and results it is fair to say that chocolate and many other foods of its kind prove to be beneficial in a person's diet.

To make a long story short, for several years sugar has been the scapegoat. Sugar is not a "bad" food but yet essential to human life. It is important to remember however that in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle eating in moderation is important. If your energy needs are low, go easy on the amount of sugars you consume, as well as the amount of fat. Try consuming mostly nutrient-dense foods, which provide other nutrients besides sugar or fat. Don't be scared to eat sweets once in a while. Dress up on Halloween and don't be scared to bring the biggest pillowcase you can find to make sure you collect the largest amount of candy possible. Sugar, once considered a trick has really been proven to be a treat.



WWW Sources

1)The Sweet Truth About Sugar, challenges the myths

2)Sugar, a great definition

3)Sugar Is Sweet By Any Name

4)Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

5)Obesity Problem Getting Worse in USA

6)Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners




Continuing conversation
(to contribute your own observations/thoughts, post a comment below)

11/03/2005, from a Reader on the Web

Is refined sugar bad for you as compared to stadard or even brown sugar? Because everyone seems to think refined sugar is from the devil or something. Alex


Additional comments made prior to 2007
i love sugar i eat it every day but in moderation. i have been 140 lbs for 5 years so if u like sugar, eat on ... James, 12 September 2006