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Grasping at straws

March 9, 2008 - Kathie Evanoff
I know a few people who only buy and use raw sugar because they claim it is healthier. By healthier, I am assuming they mean it is less processed, comparing it to whole wheat and brown rice.

By raw sugar, I am speaking of those large, brown sugar crystals sometimes called turbinado sugar, but commonly found in brown packets in restaurants alongside white, granulated sugar and packets of artificial sweeteners. It is also available in grocery stores and organic varieties can be found as well. I wondered if this “raw” sugar was indeed better than the small white grains that I’ve been using my entire life, so I looked up some information about raw sugar. .

Sugar basically comes from two sources, sugar cane and sugar beets. One is a giant grass that grows in tropical areas and the other is a root crop that grows in temperate climates. The natural sugars in these crops are extracted by grinding and boiling the plants to extract the juice, which then crystallizes. The crystals are spun in a centrifuge, which produces raw sugar. From there, the sugar is processed in different ways to make different varieties of sugar, which include granulated, fine, superfine, coarse, crystal, confectioners, invert and brown sugars.

But let me clarify the whole “raw” sugar thing. What we buy as raw sugar is not the first separation of crystals. Those first crystals that appear once the sugar has been boiled is true raw sugar, but is not approved for sale due to impurities that are still remaining. In order to make sugar safe for consumption, it must be refined in some way to remove these impurities. So what we are getting when we buy turbinado sugar is a product that has indeed seen some processing.

As far as our bodies are concerned, sugar is sugar, no matter what form it arrives. When we eat fruit, we are getting the most natural form of sugar we can, but combined with the nutrients and fiber, eating raw fruit is the most healthy way to utilize sugar. So what about honey? Well, that’s sugar too. Actually, honey weighs more than granulated sugar, so a teaspoon of honey will invariably have more carbohydrates and more calories than a teaspoon of sugar. It may have a small amount of nutrient from whatever plants the bees extracted the pollen, but that is pretty minute. It is still sugar.

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that our bodies use quickly. Some believe that if you mix sugar with a complex carb, such as sprinkling a teaspoon or two on your whole-grain breakfast cereal or oats, your body will process it as a complex carb, but food science still has a lot to learn about nutrients and how our body uses them, so I wouldn’t bet my pay check on that statement.

I try to limit sugar in my diet, mainly because I prefer to save my calories for food that can give me nutrients and vitamins. But I admit to using it in my morning tea and once in a while in my oatmeal if I’m in the mood for a sweeter flavor. If I think I’ve taken in enough sugar or have plans for a sweet treat later on, I’ll use artificial sweetener in my oatmeal or simply no sweetener at all.

Brown sugar crystals have a bit more molasses or maple flavor and if that’s what you prefer, then by all means, enjoy. Just remember, you are still choosing calories that offer little to no nutrients and must be counted as discretionary calories no matter what kind of sugar you use.

I try not to grasp at straws when it comes to my food choices, instead choosing to be realistic in what goes into my body. But Saturday I was grasping at straws when it came to spring. Trying to ignore the more than foot of snow that carpeted my gardens, I finally took the time to start those cat grass seeds. As a tray, I used a terra cotta dish that was originally meant as a bottom for a large container. My husband, using a porcelain bit in his drill, put a few holes in the bottom for drainage. I snagged a couple handfuls of his orchid planting medium for the bottom layer in the dish before adding a potting soil mixture. In addition to the cat grass tray, I planted a few herb seeds in containers for the kitchen.

During a break in the bands of snow that kept hitting us on Saturday, we ventured out for a few things at the store and stopped for lunch at a local Pizza Hut. I indulged in a small 10 ounce lite beer and we chose two different pizza recipes from the bistro menu to share. I had two small slices of each type and one glass of beer.

Because our lunch was actually later than usual, we weren’t hungry by dinner and opted to snack instead. I had a dish of plain yogurt with blueberries, while my husband had two more slices of our “doggie-bag” pizza.


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Breakfast: 1 ½ ounce grains; 3/4 cup fruit; 1 meat; 1 ½ tsp. oils; 30 discretionary calories