Field of Science

World Food Day

Today, October 16th, is World Food Day, and TPP has a spectacularly inappropriate lecture and lab today: sugar.  Sugar is not actually food.  Sugar is not needed for a healthy diet, although some sugar-containing foods (fruits), some roots, are parts of healthy enough diets.  And yet we like sugar.  Here's several things to think about.  That sugar in your sugar bowl is 99.99% pure sucrose, probably the chemically most pure substance in your house, and what it actually represents is solar light energy stored in the form of chemical bonds.  No wonder a bit of candy can brighten your day.  Our instinctual like for sugar is perhaps linked to choosing ripe fruit as a good candidate for being safe and nutritious food.  Other than honey, glucose secondarily from plant nectar, sugar is pretty hard to find in nature.  If remembered correctly dates have the highest sugar content of all fruits, basically a self-preserving fruit.  Did you ever wonder how the sense of taste works?  Sugar sensors on your tongue detect certain soluble carbohydrates when the molecule fits into a receptor site somewhere on your taste buds and a signel is sent to your brain identifying a molecule with a particular shape as "sweet".  Sweetness is a molecular shape.  Even some sugars, e.g., lactose, barely trigger you sweet sensors, so that sugar isn't sweet.  And sucrose tastes sweeter than maltose, and fructose tastes sweeter than sucrose, so supposedly the better the molecular fit the sweeter the taste.  Artificial sweeteners work because part of their molecular structure mimics the shape of sugar and triggers the taste sensors.  A few plants use non-sugar sweeteners to make their fruit taste sweet even though no sugar is present.  The sweet taste of Stevia leaves is produced by a protein. This is sort of fun to know: the word sugar is derived from an ancient word in Sanskrit for sand, "sakkara", and even more fun, candy comes from another word in the same language for pebbles, "khandra".  No question about it, raw, "brown" sugar looks like sand and pebbles.  And lastly way too much of our food has sugar added even if we don't think of it as sweet.  Of course there is the wretched excess of breakfast cereal that isn't just sugared, they have become predominately sugar, but even things like pasta sauce often have sugar added.  TPP seeks out the brands that don't add sugar because you don't need sugar.  Pasta sauce tastes better without it, so don't train your taste buds, or particularly those of your kids, to expect sugar in everything.  Remember, sugar isn't food. 

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