Sugar is a spice

Do not opt for artificial sweeteners; they are controversial and possibly cause more harm than good.

A close-up view of raw sugar (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A close-up view of raw sugar
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
From the way we consume sugar in our diet these days, one might think that it is a major food group. It is very difficult to find processed food to which some kind of sugar has not been added.
Mankind has obviously been genetically encoded with a sweet tooth, because from the dawn of time we have been indulging. The earliest sweeteners were not what we called “table sugar” or sucrose – sugar that is derived from sugar cane or sugar beets – but rather honey from dates or bees. The granular table sugar refining process was perfected around the fifth century CE in India, and it was only after Columbus discovered the Americas that sugar became a major industry and a common ingredient in our kitchens.
Sugar belongs to the food group carbohydrates. The different types of carbohydrates – sugar, honey, corn syrup, starch, etc. – are all cousins of the same family.
Their primary purpose is to provide energy to the human body. Sugars range from simple to complex.
The simplest sugars are called monosaccharides and are made up of a single molecule, like glucose or fructose.
The next level consists of sugars made of two molecules called disaccharides. Table sugar (sucrose), which is half glucose and half fructose, belongs to this group. The next level are complex sugars made up of many molecules, often connected in long chains called polysaccharides, such as starch, which is a chain of glucose molecules.
The human digestive system processes carbohydrates of all types, typically breaking them down into the simple sugars, like glucose, using enzymes. From the minute we put food into our mouths and start to chew, this process begins. Our saliva, for example, contains an enzyme called amylase that breaks down starch.
The process continues as our food is slowly digested in our intestines until the different carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, like glucose, and are transported by our blood stream to every living cell in the body, where they are the fuel that provides energy for the cells to function – nerve cells, muscle cells, brain cells, etc.
The main source of carbohydrates and sugars in our diet is from plants. Plants combine the energy of the sun with carbon dioxide to form carbohydrates in a process called photosynthesis. Carbohydrates are therefore a stored form of energy from the sun. Our bodies process them and release the energy. Without carbohydrates our bodies would cease to function and we would die.
The million-dollar question is – which carbohydrates are the healthy ones to eat and which are not? Everyone is familiar with the famous food pyramid we learn about in third grade, which states that the majority of our diet should contain plant matter, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The answer to the million-dollar question is therefore that the healthiest carbohydrates are fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, eaten either in grain form or in flour form, such as in bread.
If you want energy, the best way to obtain it is from the above sources. You do not need to drink energy drinks or eat energy bars to get energy. Rather stick to eating fruit, vegetables and whole-grain bread. If your diet is sufficient in these, your body has all the energy it needs, and adding sugar is unnecessary and potentially harmful.
So now we get to the real reason why we add sugar to our foods. It is not because we crave energy, but rather because of taste and other issues.
Fresh food of all types has a powerful intrinsic flavor.
Anyone who has picked an apple off a tree or a cucumber from their home vegetable garden will tell you that these fresh foods are bursting with flavor. When food is stored for long periods or processed, it loses much of its intrinsic flavor. To replace the lost flavor in processed foods, sugar, salt and other chemicals, like monosodium glutamate, are added. This adds unnecessary calories that can contribute to obesity and lead to a variety of other ailments, such as diabetes and heart disease.
The solution is to eat as little processed food as possible and stick with fresh food that you prepare yourself.
The next issue with sugar is psychological. From a very young age, we come to associate sweetness with comfort or other emotions. When we scrape our knee and start to cry, we are given a candy or something sweet. Overly strict parents trying to limit their kids’ intake of sweets may inadvertently cause the opposite result, by turning them into closet bingers who crave sweets and eat them when nobody is looking. We often consume sugar excessively because of psychological associations we have formed or been taught. It also doesn’t help that the food industry has glamorized sugar to a disproportionate degree in advertising, breakfast cereals, energy drinks and the like. To solve this type of problem, education and therapy are required.
Do not opt for artificial sweeteners; they are controversial and possibly cause more harm than good.
Craving sugar and sweetness is addictive, developed over time and not easily rectified. The best way to fix this is by gradually reducing sugar and sweets over time in your diet and getting back to basics – fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
It takes strong will and powerful motivation, but once you have achieved this, you and your family will be on a healthy path and for you sugar will be just a spice to be used occasionally, not a major food group.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.
Whole-wheat bread with artichokes
(Healthy, tasty bread does not need sugar)
3¼ cups whole-wheat flour
1½ cups water
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. instant dried yeast
1 can artichoke hearts (drained and diced)
Combine flour, water, salt and yeast and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Knead for 10 minutes by hand. Incorporate diced artichokes into dough. Shape into oval loaf and place in loaf pan to rise for 60 to 90 minutes. Bake at 250º for 35 minutes.