Everyone has a sweet tooth. Of the five basic tastes defining the human palate — salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami — sweet is the only one we’re addicted to at birth. Human infants display a definite taste for sugar. In fact, as Michael Moss describes in Salt, Sugar, Fat, our addiction to sugar is rooted in our DNA while addiction to salt is by acquisition.
Sugar in its natural form is generally good for us. But, like so many things in human history, we’ve managed to muck it up by meddling. To understand our relationship with sugar, we need to know more about how sugar exists in nature versus the way we consume it now in modern America.
Let no man tear asunder. Sugar is a complex carbohydrate that exists in thousands of foods growing in nature. Almost every plant we can eat has some form of sugar in it we can use. Our body has evolved to deal with fructose as it’s presented in fruit, lactose as it presents in milk, maltose found in grain, even trehalose found in — wait for it — grasshoppers. Even the simple glucose and sucrose forms found in nature are far different from the way we get sugar in our modern processed foods. The big problem is that humans, like curious kids, like to tear things apart. So we’ve learned to tear asunder the things nature has wisely put together because we think we have a better way. We found sugar in nature then we refined it.
Sugars in the form we’re eating them now have only been around for a couple hundred years, ever since we learned how to successfully and profitably refine them, reduce them to a concentrated form and then add them to nearly everything we eat. The biggest offender, of course, has been refined white table sugar.
White sugar has a dark and sordid history. The sugar trade developed extensively in the 17th and 18th centuries when European cartels depended on slavery to run vast sugar empires established in the Caribbean archipelago, reaching from Barbados to the Virgin Islands, from Haiti to Hispaniola. Even today, Dutch windmills dot the landscape of St. Croix and old sugar mills now are part of Cruzan rum production. And now the only slaves to sugar in the 21st century are those of us addicted to it.
Borrowing the old definition of pornography, refined sugar has “no redeeming social value.” White, refined sugar traditionally was made from squeezing the juice from sugar cane, a thick, tough, bamboo-like stick. The process of crystallizing it was developed in 3rd century India. How unnatural is eating a teaspoon of refined sugar? Well, it takes three feet of sugar cane to make one teaspoon of sugar. There are about ten teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke. You’d have to eat 30 feet of sugar cane to get the equivalent amount from nature.
Beyond white cane sugar. Since the goal is simply to satisfy the human addiction to sweet, we’ve learned to pull sugars from corn and beets. Add to that the problem that those two crops are now genetically altered, we’ve really opened a can of worms in the form of unnatural sweetening. Most sugar in processed foods now comes from high fructose corn syrup which doesn’t even appear in nature but has to be synthesized using a chemical process. Cane sugar has almost become looked at as a health food in view of that. But still, any refined sugar is devoid of nutrient value. It’s long been called “empty calories.”
The real problem is that refined sugar makes overindulgence as easy as… drinking a can of Coke. And overindulgence in sugar is linked to a nearly endless litany of maladies with cancer, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes leading the list. Understanding of the toxic impact of sugar has become so great that experts are calling for its regulation, much like we regulate tobacco or alcohol.
More refined taste. Honey is made by nature, not man. In a way it is refined, too: by bees. Honey differs greatly from refined sugar, containing other kinds of complex sugars as well as micronutrients and enzymes. Unadulterated, raw and lightly filtered honey contains artifacts from nature that are beneficial to humans. Table sugar has none. Thus, honey does indeed have “redeeming value.”
Honey is a product of nature that is virtually unchanged as we consume it. What nature has put together is made of components we can only guess the importance of. Humans have evolved to metabolize honey over eons. Refined sugar from beets, cane and corn has only been around for a relatively short time.
The beneficial qualities of real honey are well documented. Honey has a host of healing properties. It is antiseptic, supports the immune system, contains probiotics and prebiotics, heals wounds, aids intestinal flora — the list is long. So when the question is, “Sugar or honey, which is better?” the answer should be obvious. Just get real honey from a trusted source. Visit the Honey Information page on Heartland Healing.
Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit HeartlandHealing.com for more information.