Do you know which country invented Sugar? Yes, its India! There is reference to sugarcane cultivation and the preparation of sugar in an Indian religious text, the Atharva Veda. Sugar became known to the world when the army of Alexander *the Great came to India in 327 BC. Interestingly, they were surprised to see another alternative to honey to sweeten food, and described it with a funny name as a “reed that gives honey without bees”.
The Indian festivals and other traditional celebrations are incomplete without the tempting taste of Indian sweets. Also, it is customary to “sweeten the mouth” after every meal, any joyous occasion, religious festival or social gathering. Some common mouthwatering Indian sweets are Laddus, Rassagolla, Gulab jamun , Kulfi and Son Papdi, Jalebi, Sandesh. Similarly, drinking beverages like cold drinks, milkshakes, bottled juices, and sweetened buttermilk has become norm in our society. And the one common thing in all these sweets and beverages is Sugar.
Data from the Indian sugar trade industry (2013) show that India is the largest consumer of sugar in the world. India has become the world’s biggest sugar consumer today, consuming one-third more sugar than the entire E.U. and 60 per cent more than China! At around 20 kg, our per capita sugar consumption is growing at a fast rate.
Harmful effects of Sugar
While sugar is of considerable cultural relevance in India, nutritionally it provides only “empty” calories. It lacks the natural minerals which are present in the beet root or sugarcane, hence is actually harmful for health.
I learnt the harmful effects of too much sugar intake in a very bitterful manner. It was year 2011 in Chandigarh, due to some urgency in his company, my dad who was always very fond
of all the sweet things, had to stay alone
in a hotel close by to his company for around 6-8 weeks. After 4 weeks, company cab suddenly brought him back to us.
He was looking too pale and weak
, and was not even able to walk by himself, was hardly able to speak
. We were scared
and were unable to understand what happened suddenly. We took him to the family doctor who could not understand the issue hence recommended to admit him in PGI hospital as an emergency case. After multiple tests in PGI, it was found out that his blood sugar has gone abnormally
too high, it was somewhere around 400 mg/dl
whereas normal is anywhere around 100 mg/dl. And it took him 10 days
in hospital to come back to normalcy.
But then, I came to know this is not one of the case, this has happened and is still happening in many Indian families. Actually, India is facing an epidemic of diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, India’s has 68 million diabetics, with another 30 million in pre-diabetes group. And, arguably it’s under-reported because of a crumbling public healthcare system means several cases, especially in the rural areas, go undetected. But even by these underreported figures by 2030, India’s diabetes numbers are expected to cross the 100 million mark. The economic burden due to diabetes in India is among the highest in the world. Diabetes was now found in persons as young as 15 years.
Prevention Strategies for Reduction of Sugar Intake
To achieve a reduction in sugar intake in India, concerted efforts are needed from all stakeholders particularly from government and consumers.
Government should do following things:
- Spread awareness among consumers and the medical establishment regarding the ill effects of high sugar intake.
- Sale of sweetened beverages should be banned in school premises.
- Warning labels such as “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay” could be mandatory.
- Increase access to free, safe drinking water in public places, schools, and offices
- Decrease taxes on and prices of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other healthy foods
Consumers can do following things:
- Inculcate healthy eating habits in children from early childhood.
- Instead of sugar and fat-loaded sweets, opt for fresh fruits for dessert. Raisins and dates can also be consumed to “sweeten the mouth” post meals.
- Avoid gifting sweets; instead go for nuts and fresh fruits, etc.
- Cut down sugar in coffee and tea.
- Avoid intake of processed and packaged foods as much as possible.
- Cut down on intake of sweetened beverages.
I would like to end my speech on a thought by Edward Stanley – “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” Let’s target to decrease sugar consumption combined with an active lifestyle and physical activity, before sugar becomes too bitter for our lives.