Don’t Call Me Sugar

Desert Rose at Sugar Mill, St. John, U.S.V.I. postcard

Desert Rose shrubs adorn the ruins of a sugar factory at Caneel Bay on the island of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was eating left-over wedding cupcakes every morning. We ordered too many mini cupcakes for my daughter’s wedding, and there were at least ten dozen left.  I forced a lot of them on people as they left the reception. (I’m sorry!) But I took home at least three dozen.   The cupcakes were so rich — and so good.  I couldn’t let them go to waste. (So I let them go to my waist.)  I knew they weren’t a healthy choice, but hey, a calorie is a calorie, I thought. I could exchange a bowl of cereal for a cupcake. No harm, no foul.

Laura and Ryan's Wedding Cupcakes.

But then I had an epiphany when I saw the video at the bottom of this post. Sugar is bad for you. Really bad for you. I’ve been hearing this for decades, but shrugged it off even though diabetes runs in my family.  Now Valentine’s Day approaches, another sugar-soaked holiday. I’ve cut back on sugar so much in the past year that I don’t even like it.  (And almost no alcohol, either.) I’m not even tempted — well, okay, occasionally I succumb. And I do eat a lot of fruit. I wish I could say I feel so much better, but I don’t. I do feel smug, though! At least I haven’t gained any weight, always a problem as you grow older.

Does spurning sugar make me a sourpuss? I hope I’m still as sweet as always.  (Some who know me will say, What?) I’m bucking against the trend toward eating sugar. Sugar cane is the world’s largest crop. High fructose corn sugar from corn is ubiquitous. You can’t escape sugar in almost any processed food.  Recent statistics showed that U.S. adults consume 22.2 teaspoons of sugar daily — or 355 calories. That greatly exceeds the daily recommended amount. Dietitians have said that the average-sized women should be consuming no more than 6.25 teaspoons; men 9.4. Read the link below on Sucrose to see just what this chemical does to you!

Only two plants produce the sucrose that humans crave so much: sugar cane and sugar beets. I started thinking about sugar again when my family and I recently went to the small beautiful island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for my son’s wedding. (There seems to be a wedding theme here.) The island is now mostly a U.S. national park, but you can see the ruins of some of the sugar cane plantations that covered the island after Europeans first settled the island in 1718 and started farming. The Europeans used African and Indian slaves to work the plantations. Raising sugar cane and processing the cane into refined sugar was and still is hard work.

Here are the ruins of part of the Cinnamon Bay Estate sugar factory. Established in the early 1700s, Cinnamon Bay Estate became one of the most prosperous sugar cane operations on the island of St. John. The ruins are now in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park.

Sugar, as molasses, was traded from the Caribbean to Europe or New England, where it was distilled into rum. The profits from the sale of sugar were used to purchase manufactured goods, which were then shipped to West Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. The slaves were then brought back to the Caribbean to be sold to sugar planters. The profits from the sale of the slaves were then used to buy more sugar, which was shipped to Europe. The cycle would continue over and over. To read more, click on the link Triangular Trade at the bottom of the post.

The Europeans chopped down the native plants to plant their sugar cane plantations and introduced a lot of foreign animals. The descendants of some of these animals run wild on the island today, such as mongoose, goats, donkeys and deer. Many of the trees and vegetation did return when sugar cane plantations were abandoned. St. John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World in 1733, but the rebellion was put down. Slavery wasn’t abolished in St. John until 1848, and after that the sugar plantations shut down.  Now St. John’s main industry is tourism.

No sign remains of the sugar cane crop fields that once flourished here on the Cinnamon Bay Estate in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The sugar factory and estate house, built of blocks of coral, lie in ruins.

In case you’re wondering where the Virgin Islands group got its name, you can thank Christopher Columbus and his crew.  They were the first Europeans to see these islands and named the island group “Once Mil Virgenes”, or Eleven Thousand Virgins, in honor of the feast day of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who were martyred with her.

I wrote about the mongoose, which were also introduced to St. John and other tropical islands to control rats (which they didn’t), such as the Big Island of Hawaii. Why Did the Mongoose Cross the Road?

About Sugar Cane.

About Sucrose.
About St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

About the Triangular Trade of Sugar, Slaves and Other Goods.

CBS News: Is Sugar Toxic?

Here’s a long video that explains why sugar is bad for you. In it, Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that too much fructose too much and not enough fiber appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.



Filed under Food

7 responses to “Don’t Call Me Sugar

  1. Hi Sugar.

    No, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to my drink. 🙂 One of my earliest memories of life is looking into a bowl of Cheerios I’d just had for breakfast and seeing a thick goopy residue at the bottom of the bowl. As far as I can tell, mom made no effort to keep me away from sugar, so I was hooked at an early age.

    When you point out how sugar is in almost everything we eat, food producers are quick to point out, “We’re just giving the people what they want.”

    A couple of years ago I gave up granulated sugar. It was hard. I drank hot tea in the morning and instant iced tea all day long. (Since I had previously given up soft drinks.) And in every single glass there would be several heaping spoonfuls of sugar. It was bad.

    I find it almost impossible to drink coffee and tea with no sweetener. First I tried honey, and that was okay. Then maple syrup, which was also pretty cool, but dang expensive. These days I drink hot tea and iced tea with no sweeteners and coffee with a dash of flavoring syrups, which, of course, still contain sugar. At least I’m not dumping in the granulated stuff on my own so I count it as a moral victory.

    I eat a lot of fruit, so I haven’t completely given up on my need for sweet. After cutting back on sugar, I now find that store-bought bread and rolls almost taste as sweet to me as cake. When you look at the ingredients bread, buns and rolls often contain corn syrup. My husband bakes bread, which is about the only kind I like any more. He only puts enough sugar in to give the yeast something to eat. Cathy

  2. elissestuart

    I would have been happy to join you in eating “mass quantities of” cupcakes. What a beautiful place for a wedding!

    Yes, St. John was a beautiful place for a wedding! My days of cupcake gorging are over, I hope! The wedding cupcakes were all filled with flavored creams. My favorites were the peanut butter cups. Now my teeth hurt just thinking about them! Cathy

  3. Just the other day there was an article online about how some thought sugar should be regulated like alcohol, and cigarettes! The research does make you wonder. It wasn’t until my brother’s son was found to be allergic to corn, that I began noticing that corn syrup in in EVERYTHING.

    I’ve cut down on the sweets I consume (though I can’t seem to kick that Coke Classic for breakfast – I’m sure the amount of sugar in that puts me WAY over the recommended limit for the entire day.) But I can’t remember the last time I whipped up a batch of cookies. For years, I was the family baker, but I haven’t made a single batch of Christmas cookie in three years.

    When you cut back on the sugar, something sweet is a real treat. I’m lucky because although parents like to provide cupcakes for my students on their birthdays, they always bring fruit too. The kids gobble up the fruit – that was SO not me as a child.

  4. Anita Doll

    Interesting column and good lecture. I cut out soda and fruit drinks a long time ago, but still can’t shed those extra pounds. Obviously sugar is sneaking in somewhere else.

  5. Not the best article to read after reading a bowl of icecream!

  6. Well thanks for the reminder. Now I’ll have to revamp my whole diet. And I never knew there’s salt in Coke and that the sugar is to coverup the salt. This video is most informative. I look forward to a future post, Cathy, that you’ll suggest what are some of the foods we can eat, considering as the speaker says, there’s corn syrup in our everyday loaves of bread.

  7. SandySays1

    You’re right of course. I had the Geezer read your post. He sighed, a type two victim of the “D” word he’s been abstaining for some time. The old boy is lucky since his sweet tooth was evidently knocked out in some long past football game. Problem is, while not sucrose, all those pastas, breads, etc. convert to sugar in the old bod. So he had to give them up. He dearly loves them. But wait, red meat has all that colesterol. Fresh vegies are health hazards because of insecticides, fish have PCBs in them, chicken are filled with harmones. What does that leave? Now I understand why I see the Geezer look longingly at mud pies.

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