The observable examined

Sugar – Sweet poison or elixir

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Ah! Such pure joy! I am referring to that ecstatic feeling following the ingestion of a tall glass of sugarcane juice.  Growing up, visits to the vegetable market culminated with a stop at the juice parlor.  Fresh squeezed, this refreshing elixir was the product of all natural ingredients – sugarcane, lemon, ginger and a hint of pepper.

This childhood memory came flooding to me as I was reading a very interesting cover article on Sugar in the latest issue of the National Geographic.  The author locates the earliest use of sugarcane in New Guinea over 10,000 years ago. Sugarcane was transformed into powder form sugar as we know it, in India, around 500 A.D, eventually perfected by the Arabs. From there it made it way around the world culminating in mass production through the use of plantations and slave trade. I urge you to read the article. It is full of fascinating historical tidbits (such as the origin of the word candy, its exalted status as “luxury spice”).

The article also traces the arc of its transformation from an exotic spice to the “sweet poison” that it is today. It is a major contributor to the prevalence of lifestyle diseases that are really driving up the cost of healthcare the world over.  The average sugar consumption in the US is a whopping 22.6 tsps per day, which translates to greater than 600 empty calories. Sugar consumption, according to an article in the Harvard College Global Health Review, has tripled in the last 50 years.

Within this context, Mayor Bloomberg’s (of New York) ban on large sodas makes excellent sense.  Given that the outsized consumption of sugar has such huge societal costs, it seems ridiculous to exaggerate individual rights as witnessed by the court’s decision to strike down the ban, not to mention the relentless lobbying of business interests (soda manufacturers).

On a recent visit to India, I was struck by a remarkable fact. In the mom and pop stores[dominant business model but eroding because the Western chains are starting to slowly extinguish them], milkshakes, ice creams, and sodas are served in much smaller portions [think US kids size] compared to the US [read humongous].

Bloomberg’s ban then was absolutely a step in right direction: to put sugar back on the path to the high pedestal it once occupied and deserves.


An interesting aside, on the topic of sugar.  I have always been amused by parents admonishing  their kids to not have sugary foods close to bedtime as they supposedly wire up the kids. Claudia Hammond of the BBC lays this myth to rest in this article – Does Sugar make kids hyperactive?


Written by asterix98

August 5, 2013 at 5:24 am

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