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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.

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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?

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Written by asterix98

August 5, 2013 at 5:24 am

Future diets

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Pretty soon the debates over free range chicken and the like will be over. That is, if we are to believe a picture of the future  painted by two Dutch reserachers from Wageningen University.

Today, you can order such exotic entrees as Baby Bee Brulee or Oaxcan-style dried grasshoppers.

Ok. You get it. The diet of the future involves insects. Among other nutritional benefits, they are high in proteins and low in fat: two very highly desirable qualities in food.  As for taste, they are “nutty”. (I am “nuts for insect food” may soon become a funny pun).

The authors remind us that only modern westerners are slow to realize the salutary effects of insect consumption. Of course, the far eastern cultures have been at this for a long time.  Emperor Hirohito’s favorite meal included “canned wasps”.  Insect foods were consumed in the Roman times and gets mention in the Old Testament!

The Dutch are leading the modern Western charge. Insects like locusts and mealworms are being produced in volume for human consumption. The authors give us every assurance that insects are perfectly safe to consume. However, they are quick to warn not to get too carried away and start popping the ones you see in your backyard, directly into your mouth. Please, atleast, clean them before you do so.

More seriously, there are real environmental benefits to cultivating insects for consumption. Here are a few

  • The pose fewer health risk than livestock in communicating diseases to humans
  • For equivalent feed they provide higher consumable output
  • They produce less waste (20% for insects vs. 45% for beef)
  • 2 lbs of beef requires 10 gallons of water!!
  • Very little or no greenhouse gases compared to animals (10%)

Yet another compelling reason for eating insects. Livestock get stressed when they have cramped quarters. For insects, that’s the normal way of life. They are unlikely to complain about lack of personal space. How understanding! or is “stoic” the right word.

For the holier than thou vegetarians out there….I am reproducing some interesting information right out of the article:

“Though it is true that intentionally eating insects is common only in developing countries, everyone already eats some amount of insects. The average person consumes about a pound of insects per year, mostly mixed into other foods. In the U.S., most processed foods contain small amounts of insects, within limits set by the Food and Drug Administration. For chocolate, the FDA limit is 60 insect fragments per 100 grams. Peanut butter can have up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams, and fruit juice can have five fruit-fly eggs and one or two larvae per 250 milliliters (just over a cup). We also use many insect products to dye our foods, such as the red dye cochineal in imitation crab sticks, Campari and candies. So we’re already some of the way there in making six-legged creatures a regular part of our diet”.

 In India, the Jain monks were prescient and chose to wear a cloth filter around their mouths to avoid such “accidental” consumption of these critters.

For those of you who are really excited about expanding your dietary range, please refer the article on how to make  “Crispy crickets or Superworm Tempura”.

Bon Appetit!

Written by asterix98

February 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Posted in future diets, insects

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