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Sugar — The Darkish Side

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Today, we’re talking about sugar. But what’s the connection here? What does sugar have to do with novels? Well, novels are helpful little things because they give us models for thinking about things in life. Maybe that’s why even though I have all things sweet on my mind, I can’t help thinking about crazy Miss Havisham. In case you didn’t know, Miss Havisham is a character from a Dickens novel. She’s known as the woman who got stood up on her wedding day and refused, for many decades, to take off her wedding gown.  Serious. But this is the puzzling part: you’ll think she would’ve gobbled down the wedding cake, if not for the sake of not wasting food, at least, as comfort food. She left the cake uneaten, also for decades. She would often go into the room where the wedding reception ought to have taken place to look at the cake. It had become mostly rotten, covered over with cobwebs, and bitten all over by rats. Either way, its obvious why you wouldn’t want to have a piece of Havisham’s “bride-cake,” as Dickens likes to call it. What might not come to you as easily is that candy, Frosted Flakes, and orange juice are as delightful as they can be hurtful.

Dr. Okosun Edoro revealed as much in an email chat we had recently. I thought I should share. What are your thoughts? Is the good doctor hitting the spot or is he just being a sugar police? 

Ainehi: How much is sugar a part of the American diet?

Dr. Okosun: In the US, we eat an average 150 pounds of sugar per year as opposed to about 10 pounds of sugar per year in the 18th century.

Ainehi: Is there anything unusual about this?

Dr. Okosun: Very unusual. Sometimes it is difficult to realize how unusual it is because this is the prevailing condition in which we were born and raised.

Ainehi: Have humans not always loved eating sugar and eaten it in such a great quantity?

Dr. Okosun: To answer the first part of this question, I will say yes. We naturally like sugar because of the irresistibly sweet taste. The role of sugar in nature is to attract us to nutrient-rich food. It is what baits us into indulging in the numerous delicious fruits around. Even though our love for sugar is not new, the reason why we eat more sugar now is that it is now very affordable. If this same condition existed in the past, our ancestors would likely have had the same problem.

Ainehi: How bad can sugar be though?

Dr. Okosun: Sugar has a high glycemic index. Glycemic index is an index used to rank a foods ability to raise blood sugar. Foods with high glycemic index induce an increase in insulin. This and a host of other processes make an individual predisposed to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, raised cholesterol, depression, reduced immunity (predisposing to infection and cancer) etc. The list of likely problems associated with excessive sugar is endless. Look, just run away from sugar.

Ainehi: But is there anything good about sugar?After all, there is sugar in natural food such as fruits, etc.

Dr. Okosun: Sugar is a source of readily available calories that is good in so far as it is consumed with a moderation that approaches that of our ancestors. As I mentioned above, sugar serves to entice us to fruits loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients. You will notice that no matter how sweet fruits are, you get easily satiated. It is hard to eat 5 apples. This is because when you eat fruits whole, nature provides mechanisms that prevents you from over indulging. This however changes when you drink fruit juices (it doesn’t matter whether it is natural and freshly squeezed from the Amazon). The problem is that it’s easy to drink 20 apple worth of juice without feeling full.

Ainehi: What would be a healthy relationship to sugar?

Dr. Okosun: Realize that the problem you have with sugar is related to the over abundance of sugar which exploits our natural love for it. You have to do some work that people in the past did not have to do because they did not have access to sugar even if they craved it like a drug. You have to make a conscious effort to avoid foods with added sugar. This can be tough because most processed foods have added sugar. Avoid sodas, juice (even freshly squeezed fruits since you are better served eating them whole and fresh). Preferably, instead of consuming sugar, eat more complex carbohydrates even as you limit your intake of carbs.

 

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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