The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Sugar Beets and the Pandemic of Modern Obesity

This country’s change from consuming sugar derived from sugar cane, which Britain historically purchased from its old colonial territories, to consuming sugar extracted from sugar beets from about 1973 onwards has slowly but surely greatly contributed to this country’s obesity problem

S Davies

2nd September 2017
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I pose the question of whether this country’s change from consuming sugar derived from sugar cane, which Britain historically purchased from its old colonial territories, to consuming sugar extracted from sugar beets from about 1973 onwards has slowly but surely greatly contributed to this country’s obesity problem. It is popularly believed that despite us as a nation consuming fewer calories these days than was the case in the 1960's,  obesity has gradually become a real problem. So, is it the EU's forced substitution of sugar obtained from sugar beets rather than sugar obtained from sugar cane making us really fat? 
 
I suggest that the country's obesity pandemic is partly due to its switch to the creation of sugar from sugar beets, which came about after the UK entered the European Economic Community in 1973. The UK had historically relied upon sugar cane for its sugar, which was a state of affairs that hadn't changed since sugar was first introduced into this country and became more widely available from about the 16th - 17th centuries onwards. In fact beets were not discovered as an alternative to cane until the late 18th century and weren't used in manufacturing until the early 19th century, when they had to be cultivated to yield a higher sucrose content than that which they originally and naturally contained.
 
The difference in quality between the two types of table sugars is a matter of debate. From a culinary perspective, I personally find sugar derived from sugar cane to be a far superior substance. I find it crisper and that it gives a lighter result. There is no apparent taste to cane sugar, which is just sweet. I personally find that there is an ever so slight aftertaste or noticeable different texture to beet sugar. Cane sugar is the master baker's sugar of choice, whatever the chemists say about it supposing to be the same. Meringues made from sugar cane are crisper and far superior. Cakes don't flop as easily with cane sugar. Yet the scientists say that “sugar is just sugar” and that there is no difference between the two substances. 
 
So, what is the difference between sugar cane and sugar beets? To look at a 500 gram pack of Silver Spoon (beet sugar) and Tate & Lyle (cane sugar) next to each other, they generally appear to be of the same size, and have the same volume, so there can't be much of a difference regarding the physical density of the product. On closer inspection of the sugar grain or crystals, the beet sugar may seem less crisp and light than the cane sugar. However, I think that to appreciate the difference between them, one needs to look at how the two products are processed, the difference in production being necessary due to their respective botanical composition. 
 
Sugar beets and sugar cane must be processed differently to achieve apparently the same table sugar. Sugar beets, which are a root crop, are sliced and boiled to extract the syrup. This is then evaporated into crystals. Sugar beets produce two by-products: the beet pulp, from which the sucrose syrup has been extracted, and molasses. The beet pulp is dried into pellets and fed into the human food chain inasmuch as it's then sold on as animal feed. The sugar beet molasses is not fit for human consumption but can and is fed to animals.
 
Sugar cane, which grows in reeds above the earth's surface for several feet before it's harvested, is sliced and heated in water to extract the sugar syrup. Cane sugar also produces molasses as a by-product. However, this molasses can be used for human consumption - e.g. in the Caribbean it is utilised in the manufacture of rum. The bark or reeds of the sugar cane crop is then either defunct or can be used in the manufacture of baskets and mats etc.
 
The botanical composition of sugar beets is described on Wikipedia as follows: "The pulp, insoluble in water and mainly composed of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin, is used in animal feed." The botanical composition of sugar cane is described as: "A mature stalk is typically composed of 11–16% fiber, 12–16% soluble sugars, 2–3% nonsugars, and 63–73% water." 
 
I suggest below that the more resinous nature of sugar beet may have a deleterious effect on the human liver. It must be ground down or processed to such a level in standard sugar production that it is then able to permeate the small intestines and enter the liver via the bloodstream. This can then act as a resinous mist on liver cells and affect their ability to act to their required capacity, so forcing the body to rely on alternative glucose-fuelling sources - i.e. cortisol from the adrenal glands. Perhaps cane sugar, having no inherent resinous qualities, degrades more easily, leaves no residue and is thus less taxing on the human body.
 
In attempting to explain my theory, I think that it's important to first go through the stages involved in the body's metabolism of food. The human body, and animal kingdom in general, are glucose-driven vessels who rely upon glucose as their primary source of fuel. This contrasts with the plant kingdom, whose primary source of energy is slightly different and is called fructose. This general blood sugar requirement is irrespective of whether the body ingests fat, carbohydrate or protein. 
 
I initially wondered whether it was fructose, which, as has been noted above, is not the animal kingdom's source of sugar. As a substance, it may impose a bit of a strain on the body because it is not broken down by insulin, as glucose is, and in the usual way. It must be processed in the liver after ingestion, before it's released into the wider bloodstream. It has been suggested that everyone is slightly fructose intolerant, with their ability to break down fructose varying in degree from individual to individual and associations have been made between fructose and fatty liver disease. However, my point here is that where one obtains the fructose or plain sugar from also makes a difference – i.e. whether it’s obtained from sugar beet or sugar cane. 
 
In fuelling the human body, it is of paramount importance to maintain blood glucose homeostasis - i.e. balance - and therefore blood glucose levels hover within a limited range, with a normal range being 70 to 110 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter). The body will try and move heaven and earth to achieve this balance and therefore has more than one mechanism to ensure blood glucose stability. For immediate use, it will rely on the glucose stored in the liver. This is termed glycogen. Thereafter, glucose is stored in fat and muscle tissues. 
 
The body accesses glucose by synthesizing (i.e. creating) and using insulin, which is a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin mobilises blood glucose and ensures it reaches the body's cells and muscles. The pancreas also synthesizes another hormone called glucagon, which is something of a mirror-image to insulin. Glucagon senses when blood glucose levels are low and sends negative feedback messages to the liver that this is the case, so instructing the liver to release more glucose, whilst insulin mops up glucose in the bloodstream and either helps the body utilise it immediately or helps to store it as excess fat. 

If glucose or glycogen stores in the liver are low, the body can also produce a hormone called cortisol from the adrenal glands, which lie on top of the kidneys, to remedy the shortfall. However, the body's usual glucose reserves are stored in the liver. If the body is forced to rely on short-term cortisol from the adrenals to release glucose stores from the body’s tissues, this is not the preferred method and long-term use carries its own problems - e.g. high blood pressure, which is associated with an increased cardio-vascular risk, increased risk of stroke, increased risk of diabetes due to cortisol's glucose-raising effects. Cortisol is also associated with obesity because it slows down the body’s rate and generally deteriorates body tissue etc.
 
So, why would the body choose to use the cortisol hormone instead of the glucagon one? 
 
Simply because it feels that it has to, to maintain blood glucose balance. Either the alpha cells of the pancreas, which produce glucagon, have become impaired, or the liver's reading of and sensitivity to them has become impaired. The body is then moved into emergency mode and cortisol is forced to take over and aid the release of glucose into the bloodstream where glucagon left off. So, we need to ask ourselves whether the liver cells or even the pancreas cells are being caked up with a resinous substance that hinders its ability to detect blood glucose levels and whether this irritating substance is present in sugar beet.

By S Davies

 

Surrender Is Not Negotiation
The Shape of Gibraltar in the aftermath of Brexit
 

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Sunday, 24 September 2017