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The Importance of Sugar in the Diet

One of the dietary fads that are currently a rage is to eliminate sugar from the diet. This isn’t likely to actually happen, but most people don’t realize how good this substance is. Sugar is exceptionally important in a lot of ways and it can be helpful to understand a little more about it.

What sugar is

Sugar is a substance that is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. For instance, glucose, which is a very common sugar, is made up of six atoms of carbon, 12 atoms of hydrogen, and six atoms of oxygen. This gives it a chemical formula of C6H12O6. There are other kinds of sugar as well, like fructose, dextrose, and maltose, but all of them contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The difference is in the amounts of these three elements that they contain.

The source of sugar

All plants that photosynthesize produce sugar, naturally. The sugar is a combination of carbon dioxide or CO2 and water or H2O. Sunlight provides the energy for these two compounds to combine and the product of the combination is sugar. This is the natural source of sugar.

When animals eat the plants, some of the sugar ends up in the animal’s cells. When other animals eat the plant-eating animals, some of the sugar ends up in their cells, too. Still, it all starts with plants, which produce the sugar, to begin with. This is what is meant when it is said that plants are the base of the food chain. Without plants, there would be no sugar. Even plants require sugar in order to grow.

Energy from sugar

The energy from sunlight is used by plants to produce sugar, as already explained. The energy doesn’t just go away after the sugar is produced, though. It is locked up in the sugar molecule. When sugar is digested and broken down, the energy is released. It is this energy that powers every cell in your body. In fact, it is this energy that is what is referenced when people talk about how many calories a given amount of food contains. ‘Calorie’ is a measure of energy.

Sugar becomes other substances

The cells of the body also use sugar, combined with other elements, to produce other substances that are needed for animal life. For instance, most people have probably heard the term, “amino acid”. An amino acid is a combination of sugar with an amine. An amine contains nitrogen and oxygen.

An example of an amino acid is glutamine. Glutamine has a chemical formula of C5H10N2O3. That is, it contains five carbon atoms, 10 hydrogen atoms, two nitrogen atoms, and three oxygen atoms. This is basically sugar combined with nitrogen. Amino acids are also necessary for animal life to exist.

Importance of sugar

It all starts with sugar. The breakdown of sugar provides the energy for survival. It also can and is recombined into substances such as amino acids, which are also essential for survival. Without sugar, we couldn’t survive. Nearly all plants produce sugar as a product of photosynthesis, though. The few exceptions are just those plants that don’t use photosynthesis.

Sugar and diet

A person might wonder, given all of this information, why a ‘sugar-free’ diet is a fad in the first place. The reason is that not only do all fruits, vegetables, and meats contain sugar and sugar derivatives, most that are processed and sold in the store have additional sugar added to them. Putting it mildly, most people have far too much sugar in their diets.

A sugar-free diet doesn’t actually exist since there is sugar in virtually everything we eat. However, lowering the amount of sugar in the diet is normally a good idea. Sugar is important and it is essential. Too much sugar isn’t a good thing, though. Thus, this is a fad that is misnamed, but it has a solid reason behind it. We do need sugar in our diet, we just don’t need it in the quantity that it is normally consumed.

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  1. I couldn’t reply anymore…so I’ll just leave a new comment. I totally agree with you there….I think it’s just convenience though. I didn’t know that’s what silicone dioxide was, but glad to know now. Eventually I’ll probably make my own things like that. I may even start making my own mayo and such because the store bought ones are made with awful oils.

    • I very much prefer homemade mayo over store-bought. ‘Low-fat’ mayo at the store is a laugh. It isn’t low fat. Anyway, making homemade mayo has the advantage of allowing you to use whatever oil you want to use. Many store-bought brands use vegetable oil. I prefer using either Canola oil or olive oil, both of which are much healthier.

      Yes, there is convenience involved. To me, health, flavor, and expense take precedence over convenience, if the convenience is minor. Mayo is one example. It takes me about three minutes to make a quart of mayo. It costs roughly 75 cents a quart to make if store-bought chicken eggs and olive oil are used. It is much healthier than store-bought. It tastes much better than store-bought. So my choice is Whether to go to the inconvenience of assembling the ingredients and using 3 minutes of my time or to pay over $3 a quart at the store for an inferior and less-healthy product.

          • That is exactly right. For me, health is the most important factor. Then comes expense, followed by flavor.

            If I can remember, I’ll share my mayonnaise recipe soon. It is one that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother, to me. When I grew up at Crater Lake, it was over 60 miles to town, so things like mayo were very often homemade and made as needed.

  2. In my studies…I have learned that we need no more than 1 tsp of sugar a day ( I think that was the #). It’s unfortunate that sugar is in everything…especially for diabetics. For myself I am going to limit to 20 carbs a day…but not cut it out completely. I have heard of some who do the carnivore diet and only eat meat & fat. Some might argue that’s not the most healthy, but for some it works.
    Anyways….good points on sugar!

    • That is the thing; there is sugar added to almost all processed foods. Most of that is in the form of either refined sugar or corn syrup. Refined sugar is close to worthless since the good stuff is taken out.

      The best balanced diet I know of is 40% of calories from carbs, 30% from proteins, and 30% from fats. The problem is that for most Americans, 75% or more of the calories come from carbs. It is no wonder there is a weight problem in this country. Again, though, some of that is hard to avoid when they put refined sugar or corn syrup in everything. Home cooking helps, though. lol

      • Simple thing….cut out processed foods! That would help a lot I am sure It is unfortunate that sugar is added to so many things…even things that don’t need it. Table salt even has dextrose.

        Yes, on the standard american diet I can see people consuming 75% in carbs….that’s insane! Sticking to low carb / sugar is possible….just not easy!

          • I have found I can still eat meals out…just get a burger without the bun & skip the fries.
            But yes…cooking your own food is best. I am trying to stock up on meat to cook starting Monday.

          • I’m often astounded by people buying things that take mere minutes to make. The homemade versions are usually much cheaper, taste better, and are healthier. Just one single example is poultry seasoning. It is very expensive for a small bottle that often contains things like silicon dioxide as an anti-caking ingredient. Silicon dioxide is sand. I grow many of my own herbs, so the cost for a bottle of poultry seasoning is virtually nothing and it only takes 5 minutes to make. Yet people still buy it and pay over $4 for a little bottle.

  3. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to distinguish between refined sugar and sugar that is naturally in foods. Adding refined sugar to anything is bordering on ludicrous. At the same time sugar substitutes are a long history of horror (saccharine, nutrisweet, aspartame, …etc.) I wouldn’t recommend added sugar prepared foods or any “sugar free” prepared foods to anyone personally. After about five days that stuff tastes so sickly sweet that it is inedible almost. I’ve known people who on the verge of diabetes had to eliminate sugar from their diet to prolong their life. So, added refined sugar – no thanks.

    • Yes, refined sugar isn’t a good substance. A lot of my baking uses stevia as a sweetener, for that reason. Honey is also healthful, though it is primarily made from sugar. It isn’t refined sugar. I have a large number of diabetic recipes that use stevia, but natural sugars are still necessary for survival, even for a diabetic. Refined sugar is another matter altogether.

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