Monday, September 07, 2015

Is Sugar Toxic?

When I was growing up, sugar was already being demonized because it was considered fattening, providing a major impetus for the movement to diet (so-called "lite") products. It's interesting to consider this now, especially in light of the huge influx of processed foods containing sugars (mostly HFCs, or high-fructose corn syrup) into the American diet. In this essay, contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food takes on the subject.

Since Gary Taubes asked that question in the New York Times more than 4 years ago, many people concerned about what they eat have decided the answer is yes. And it's clear that too much sugar is used to give highly processed food some flavor and too many people drink more sugary drinks than they should. But there are many who argue that the issue isn't quite so simple.

Caffé con zuccero.

I'm not about to give up sugar, though. My approach is to avoid highly processed foods, the source of most of the added sugars in modern diets, and use moderation when it comes to eating sugary treats. We're hardwired to like sweet things, after all, and I think the benefits of the pleasures of the table are just as important as getting enough sleep and all the other things we're told are good for us.

Raw Sugar

The raw sugar I get from Three Brothers Farm in Louisiana comes from sugar cane grown without any pesticides. After harvest, the cane is crushed to extract a milky, sugary liquid that's boiled to remove the water (after about 12 hours you get cane syrup, perfect with cornbread). Eventually the liquid is completely evaporated and sugar crystals form. Dark, moist, and with a caramel-y flavor, this is raw sugar. Additional processing is required for white, free-flowing refined sugar; molasses is a by-product and gets added back to refined sugar to make commercial brown sugar.

I start every day with a shot of espresso sweetened with raw sugar (photo, above left). I like the complex flavor, more than just the jolt of sweetness I get with refined sugar. I've been baking with it, too, and it's less sweet than a comparable amount of refined sugar. My olive oil cake tastes better. I've also been making jam with it, and I use a mixture of raw sugar and sea salt as rub for pork (Momofuku pork shoulder!).

Eating sugar is fraught, but it's part of what makes us human. Life is sweet.

Details: Real Good Food can be found in Jim's warehouse store on most Tuesdays from 4-7 pm on the corner of SE 9th and Main at 833 SE Main, space 122.

Photo at top of sugar cane from Three Brothers Farm.

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