Sucrose is the ordinary, plain table sugar that almost everybody makes use of in daily life. It is a disaccharide, meaning that it is a complex carbohydrate made up of two simple sugars linked together. It gives rise to two monosaccharides, fructose and glucose on hydrolysis. This 1:1 mixture of glucose and fructose is often referred to as invert sugar. Sucrose has a sweet taste and melts and decomposes at 186°C to form caramel. It is sweeter than glucose but not as sweet as fructose.
Though sucrose (sugar) is produced in 121 countries these days, it was a scarce commodity in earlier times. The use of sucrose dates back to several thousand years in India and China. It was called “white gold” as it was very expensive at that time. The name sugar originated from the Sanskrit word “Sharkara” meaning material in a granular form.
Sugar or more specifically sucrose occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. However, sugar occurs in greatest quantities in sugar cane and sugar beets from which it is separated for commercial use. It is then purified and crystallized and mainly used as food. The other naturally occurring sources of sucrose are honey, sugar-maple sap and dates.
Source of energy: Like all carbohydrates, sucrose is ultimately used by the body as glucose for energy. Each gram of sucrose yields about 4 kilocalories of energy but it has no other nutritional value in terms of vitamins and minerals. Hence, it is often referred to as “empty calories”.
Preservative: Used as preservative in jams, processed foods, condensed milk and preserves.
Sweetener: Sucrose is a natural sweetener and has been widely used in processed foods to impart sweetness. However, because of the health concerns related to too much consumption of refined sugar, people are increasingly turning to natural sweeteners. Some of these include sucanat (organically grown, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice), honey, dates, raisins, frozen juice concentrates and fructose to a lesser extent. More information on natural sweeteners can be obtained at the following websites:
- Natural Sweeteners
A natural sweetener which is gaining increased acceptance these days is stevia. Stevia Rebaudiana is a small shrub found in Paraguay and Brazil. It is an herb and the leaves have been used as a natural sweetener since pre-Columbian times. Stevia does not alter the blood sugar, contains no calories and adds sweetness to foods. More on Stevia is available on sites such as:
- Health World
Flavour Enhancer: Sucrose is added to many processed foods like baked beans, soups, preserved meats and tomato sauce to enhance flavour.
Sucrose provides texture and bulk and is important to the structure of many foods such as biscuits, cookies, ice creams, sorbets etc. acts as food for yeast in baking and brewing beer and delays staleness in cakes and biscuits.
 Health Concerns
Tooth Decay: Frequent consumption of sucrose can encourage growth of oral bacteria leading to tooth decay. The oral bacteria convert sugars (including sucrose) from food into acids that attack tooth enamel. However, more recently, other factors apart from high sugar intake have been implicated in tooth decay. The kind of sugar and how long it stays in the mouth are considered more important than just plain sugar intake. Still, reduction of total dietary sugar is the most accepted dietary recommendation for prevention of tooth decay.
Immune System: Sugar raises the insulin level, which inhibits the release of growth hormones, which in turn depresses the immune system.
Cardiovascular Risk: Sugar triggers the release of insulin which keeps blood sugar at desirable levels. But, insulin also promotes fat storage which leads to elevated triglyceride levels and an increased risk of heart problems.
Weight Gain and Obesity: High sugar intake can lead to weight gain as there is higher fatty acid storage around the organs in the body.
Increased Risk of Breast Cancer: A new study carried out by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health reveals a strong correlation between the consumption of refined carbohydrates –especially refined white sugar – and increased risk of breast cancer. This could be related to elevated levels of insulin which encourage breast cancer tumors.
Risk of Degenerative Disease: Since refined dietary sugars lack minerals and vitamins, they draw upon the body's micro-nutrient stores in order to be metabolized into the system. This leads to depletion of body’s nutrients and results in adverse effects on the endocrine system leading to degenerative diseases.
Although sugar is not very nutritious, there is little evidence to show that low to moderate consumption is harmful. However, people who are particularly carbohydrate sensitive, obese or diabetic, have to keep sugar consumption within strict limits. On the whole, replacing refined sugar with natural sweeteners, either in part or whole would be healthier and a more practical option than eliminating sugar from the diet completely.
- Natural News
- Sugar's effect on your health
- Dictionary: sucrose