Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sugar, the grass that changed the world by Sanjida O’Connell

Recently whilst aimlessly wandering around the Brunswick library I came across this history of sugar. After reading David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison about the adverse health effects of sugar in the diet, I thought it would be interesting to read a bit more about the subject.
I don’t know anything about the author, Sanjida O’Connell, beyond the author blurb, which says she’s written a couple of novels.

This history is okay. It suffers a little bit from the author’s going from one sugar theme to another. There’s the religious significance of sugar, its beginnings in New Guinea, the slave trade, the modern industrialisation of sugar, fake sugars, the deleterious health aspects of sugar. The book comes across as a bit unfocused, somewhat of a potted history.

O’Connell writes quite well though, and if you are interested in sugar, you may find this book of interest. Even better, you may find the extensive bibliography of some use.

My favourite quote in the book is from nutritionist Patrick Holford, who calls sugar an ‘anti-nutrient’. Sugar is not just devoid of goodness – it lacks any vitamins or minerals – but it also takes nutrients from the body.

Patrick Holford:

‘For every unit of sugar, you need vitamins B and C to turn it into energy; the more sugar you eat, the more you use up vitamins B and C.’

Dr Candice Pert, a professor at the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Centre in Washington, is bold enough to call sugar a drug.

On top of that there is the problem of dental caries, or tooth decay. Research dentist, Dr Weston A. Price, from Cleveland, Ohio, famously travelled the world comparing teeth from different cultures. The result was a book titled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects. People who lived in so-called primitive conditions had excellent teeth. They ate natural, unrefined food.

Dental caries, we learn, were practically non-existent in early human history. When the skulls and teeth of early hunter-gatherers are examined, there are no signs of modern tooth decay.

Oh, I wish sugar wasn’t such a magic food, because I could never give up cakes and sweets and all the other fun things you can make with sugar. The lesson to be learnt here, as it with all things, is moderation. Or perhaps we should go back to sugar's more original use, as a spice. Unfortunately, today we use it as a staple.

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