Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

For quick offline reference, you can purchase Planet Lactose: The Best of the Blog as an ebook on or Almost 100,000 words on LI, allergies, milk products, milk-free products, and the genetics of intolerance, along with large helpings of the weirdness that is the Net.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sweet Energy

Maxine Frith of The Statesman has a nice summary of sugar and the role it plays as a food in her article, Sweet Energy.

Sugar is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable. There are many different types of sugar: glucose, fructose and lactose are among them, but the table sugar (or sucrose) that most of us eat, extracted from beet and cane, is made up of glucose and fructose.

Along with fats and protein, carbohydrates make up the three macronutrients that provide energy in our diet. Quite apart from making food taste nicer, it provides the body with vital fuel.

For primitive man, the sweet taste of sugar was a natural indicator that something was safe to eat. The Arabs and Berbers introduced sugar to western Europe in the eighth century but it was a luxury for most people until the 18th century, when improved production techniques brought the cost down.

So what are the health problems? We are all eating far too much of it. The average British adult eats 33 teaspoons of sugar every day, amounting to 198g, when the recommendation is for no more than 90g. All too often, sugary foods are also high in fat, so consumers are getting a double whammy of unhealthiness. The couch-potato culture means that many people are taking in a lot of energy in the form of sugar, but not expending it - leading to obesity.

It also has a notoriously terrible effect on teeth. Bacteria in the mouth multiply in the presence of sugar, producing acid and causing plaque and tooth decay. There is a popular misconception that increased sugar intake directly causes Type-II, or adult-onset diabetes. It doesn’t, but obesity is a risk factor, so lots of sugar can be indirectly responsible. There are concerns, backed up by some scientific studies, that excessive sugar intake causes hyperactivity in children. Sugar has also been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer; a study found that women who consumed foods that rapidly boost blood-sugar levels were three times more likely to develop the disease.

What are the health benefits of sugar? Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for working muscles and physical activity. They are stored in the muscle in the form of glycogen and help to prolong the length of time that people can exercise before they feel tired; hence why athletes will consume sugary drinks during or before a match or race.

Consumption of carbs also naturally stimulates production of the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin, researchers have found, so sugar makes you feel better, at least in your mind. A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA even suggested that the reason so many people fail to keep up a diet is because they cut out carbohydrates, their serotonin levels fall, and they become depressed and irritable. Carbohydrates are the only food group that boosts serotonin levels.

Is sugar addictive? There are now several US-based websites dedicated to the idea that people can become sugar addicts, as attached to the high that sugar gives them as alcoholics are to drink.

They recommend cutting out sugar from hot drinks gradually.

One problem is that high sugar consumption can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate just how much it needs. If you eat too much, you will produce extra amounts of the hormone insulin to remove the excess, but then your sugar levels dip a little below normal and so a message is sent to the brain demanding more of the stuff. Its a cycle known to some addicts as the sugar binge impulse that drives them to finish off the box of chocolates.

Lactose, the milk sugar that people with lactose intolerance can't digest, is only a mildly sweet sugar. But in the form of whey it is a cheap byproduct from cheesemaking, so it is added to a bewilderingly wide array of products. That makes them extra sweet, piles on the empty calories, and causes many people to develop digestive symptoms. Sugar is eminently desirable, but we get more than enough of it. Time to cut down and cut back.

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