World of the sugar beet
How does sugar beet grow?
Sugar beet is a member of the common beet plant family. The beet consists of green foliage and, under the ground, a large taproot. In the summer months, the leaves convert air, water and sunlight into the foodstuff we know as sugar. The sugar is photosynthesised in the leaves and stored in the root as it grows during the summer. The root, the beet, is then harvested in the autumn in order to extract the sugar.
Can sugar be extracted from other crops apart from sugar beet?
Yes. Over the centuries people have tried to make sugar from all kinds of plants. The two best known alternatives to sugar beet are sugar cane and maple but people have also tried to make sugar from grapes, wheat, corn, potatoes, walnuts, hogweed, cabbage, palm trees and liquorice. But no crop produces as much sugar as the sugar beet.
Is there a difference between cane sugar and beet sugar?
Sugar is produced from sugar cane and sugar beet. Sugar cane stores the sugar in its stalk and sugar beet in its root. Both types of sugar have exactly the same nutritional value, the only difference is in how they are grown. Cane sugar is no less cariogenic than beet sugar, which means it does not cause less tooth decay. Sugar cane grows in only tropical and subtropical climates and sugar beet in only temperate climates. Sugar in the Netherlands is therefore made only from sugar beet, not from sugar cane.
What special properties does sugar have?
There is more to sugar than just sweetness. Sugar also intensifies the taste of fruit and vegetables and is used as a preservative in jams and other foodstuffs. And thanks to the sugar in it, ice cream is nice and soft. The more sugar that is added to the ice cream, the slower it freezes and the softer it becomes. Ice cream is not the only product to benefit from sugar; chocolate melts in the mouth thanks to sugar. Sugar also quickly and easily absorbs moisture. A bit of sugar in the biscuit tin keeps biscuits fresh for longer. And a spoonful of sugar extends the vase life of cut flowers. The flowers use the sugar to grow.
What is the nutritional value of sugar?
Like all other carbohydrates, sugar provides 4 kcal (= 17 KJ) of energy per gram. Carbohydrates are an important source of the energy we need for our daily activities. The carbohydrates we consume can be used right away or temporarily stored (for instance in muscle tissue in the form of glycogen) and used as a source of energy later.
Is sugar fattening?
Sugar is often said to be fattening. But you put on weight only if you consume more calories than you use. You use energy during physical activity. It doesn’t matter where the excess energy comes from, whether it is from carbohydrates (such as sugar) or proteins or fats. Sugar in itself is not fattening. Physical activity and a varied diet taken in moderation are important to maintain a healthy weight.
Is sugar a responsible ingredient in a healthy diet?
It is sometimes said that sugar is ‘not healthy’ and does not belong in a sensible diet. But food in itself isn’t bad for you, only poor eating habits. A healthy diet includes all foodstuffs, including sugar and sugary products. You have to choose the right foods in the right amounts and combine and vary the different types responsibly. It is important, for example, to eat enough fruit, vegetables and whole grain products and to drink at least one and a half litres of fluid every day. Sugar is therefore a responsible ingredient in a healthy diet.
What are hidden sugars?
How can you know if a product contains sugar?
Nearly all packaged food and drinks have a food label that lists the ingredients used to prepare the product in descending order of amount. If granulated beet sugar has been used, the food label will state ‘sugar’ or ‘granulated sugar’. A bag of granulated sugar from the store contains 100% sugar and does not have a food label because it has only one ingredient. If a product contains cane sugar, the label will often state ‘cane sugar’ rather than just ‘sugar’. Glucose sugar, fructose and lactose are also members of the sugar family.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is the official name of blood sugar disease. Many people think diabetes is caused by eating sugar and that people with diabetes should not eat sugar. This is a myth. The term ‘ blood sugar disease’ is probably due to the high glucose content of the blood, also known as ‘blood sugar’. The term ‘blood sugar disease’ is confusing and is a source of prejudice and poor eating habits. The Dutch diabetes organisations share this opinion and are trying to eliminate its use.
Can people with diabetes eat sugar?
Definitely! The same dietary guidelines apply to people with diabetes (diabetics) as to the general population: the Guidelines for a Healthy Diet of the Health Council of the Netherlands. These guidelines allow the consumption of carbohydrates, including sugar. However, carbohydrates should be spread evenly throughout the day to minimise the pressure on the metabolism. In the past, the advice was to eat a sugar-free diet, but this advice was withdrawn in the 1990s. Nevertheless, many people still think that diabetics should eat 'sugar free'. Depending on the type of diabetes, the disease can be treated by means of medication or insulin injections. To prevent diabetes (especially type 2), moreover, people who are susceptible to the disease should take care not to be overweight and should take sufficient physical exercise.
Does sugar cause tooth decay?
Teeth decay when bacteria in the mouth (deposited on the teeth as dental plaque) convert sugars from all kinds of food into acids. This ‘acid attack’ dissolves minerals in the teeth. Your teeth can recover naturally from such attacks but if the balance is disturbed, for example if you frequently eat and drink between meals, cavities can form and your teeth can decay. Sugar itself cannot cause tooth decay without the presence of bacteria in dental plaque. To prevent cavities it is important to brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Brushing removes the dental plaque – and therefore the bacteria – and strengthens the tooth enamel. You should also try not to eat and drink more than seven times a day, preferably no more than three meals and four snacks, so that your teeth have enough time to recover from the acid attack.