by Kathy Wolfe

This week, Tidbits has some sweet facts about sugar, a compound that occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates.

There are two sources of sugar, sugar beets and sugar cane. Sugar cane is a perennial grass that requires a frost-free climate with a lot of rainfall, since it takes about 660 gallons (2,500 liters) of water for every 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of sugar produced. Cane plants grow to a height of 10 to 20 feet. During harvest, the cane is cut just above root level, allowing new sprouts to grow for another harvest in 10 to 12 months. It’s one of the world’s oldest crops, with the country of New Guinea domesticating sugar cane around 8000 B.C.

    Brazil is the number one producer of sugar cane in the world. It was brought there by the Portuguese and by 1540, there were 800 sugar mills there.    India is the second-largest. The United States is in tenth place, with the majority of production coming from Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Hawaii.    During his 1492 voyage, Christopher Columbus gathered sugar cane samples in the Canary Islands and carried them to other areas of his journey. The first sugar cane harvest took place in 1501 in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. By the 1520s, there were sugar mills in Jamaica and Cuba.

Sugar beets, a root crop, thrive in cooler climates, and have a growing season of about five months, providing for about 20% of the world’s consumption. These beets are not the ordinary beets you might see in the grocery store. They are much larger, with a single sugar weighing as much as 5 lbs. (2.2 kg). The U.S. is a major producer of sugar beets, with farms in Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

    Sugar cane crops require 51% more land to produce the same amount of sugar as a sugar beet farm.

During the sugar refining process, molasses is removed. The sugar cane or beets are crushed to extract the juice, which is boiled down to form sugar crystals. The thick brown syrup known as molasses is left as a by-product after the crystals have been removed from the juice.

      When it comes to foods, there are two types of sugar – natural and added. Natural sugars are just what you’d think, naturally-occurring, in foods such as fruits, some vegetables, and milk. Fructose and glucose occur naturally in fruits and plant juices. Both are monosaccharides, or simple sugars. When fructose and glucose molecules are bonded, it produces a compound sugar, or disaccharide. Sucrose, which is our common table sugar, is the combination of the two. Lactose, the sugar found in milk, is a disaccharide made from the bonding of glucose and another simple sugar, galactose. Maltose is formed during the germination of grains, and is converted into malt.

The American Heart Association’s recommendation for sugar intake an adult woman is 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. That’s over and above naturally-occurring sugar. For an adult male, the amount is 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day. Compare that to the current average consumption of upwards of 30 teaspoons of sugar per day.   

The United States is the largest consumer of sugar in the world. How has that consumption varied over the decades? Two hundred years ago, an American ate about 2 lbs. of sugar a year. In 1970, the amount was 123 lbs. How about today? That quantity is 152 lbs. in a year, about 6 cups a week. In 1822, the average American consumed about 45 grams of sugar every five days. (That’s the amount in one of today’s 12 oz. sodas.) Ninety years later, that figure had skyrocketed to 765 grams every five days, more than ten times the recommended intake.

    The number one source of added sugar in a person’s diet is beverages, with soft drinks responsible for the majority.    The average American drinks 53 gallons of soft drinks a year. Just one 12-oz. can of Coke contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, more than 80% of the daily recommended intake. You can consume two frosted Pop Tarts and a Twinkie for less sugar.

      It’s recommended that added sugars should not exceed 10% of a person’s daily calorie intake.    Research indicates that worldwide, people consume more than 500 calories a day from sugar.

      Sugar content is listed on food packaging in grams, but how does that measure out? A gram of sugar is equal to ¼ teaspoon, so that 4 grams equals one teaspoon. This means that a Starbucks grande ice flavored drink contains 7 teaspoons of sugar.

      In order to be called “sugar-free,” one serving of a food must contain less than 0.5 grams of sugars, both natural and added. Reduced sugar foods have at least 25% less sugar than the regular version of the product.

    Drink one 12 oz. can of soda every day, and you will add enough sugar to your diet to increase the odds of developing heart disease by more than 30%. Those who drink 2.5 cans of soda a day are three times more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who drink less. Excess sugar has been linked to cancer, and negatively affects its survival rates. Too much sugar has also been tied to memory deficiency and a drop in cognitive processes, as well as a significant chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Sugar overload can produce mood changes including irritability and anxiety because of the cycle of blood sugar spikes and drops. Alertness is lowered and fatigue can actually increase.

    While pure cranberry juice has many health benefits, 12 oz. of sweetened cranberry juice contains 11 teaspoons of added sugar. And an energy drink gives you more than energy…it also gives you 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12-oz. can.

    To dodge listing sugar as the first ingredient on a food’s label, manufacturers use different names, such as high-fructose corn syrup. This chemically-manufactured sweetener is made from corn syrup and is about 55% fructose, which requires your body to take more steps to break down into energy.

    A Czech gentleman named Jakob Christof Rad was the director of a sugar refinery in 1841 when he produced the world’s first sugar cube by pulverizing sugar, lightly steaming it, and re-forming it into teaspoon-sized blocks. He was granted a patent for the process in 1843. In 2013, Camille Courgeon of France fashioned the tallest sugar cube tower, measuring 6 ft, 10 inches tall. Requiring 2,669 cubes, it took Courgeon 2 hours and 59 minutes to complete.