THE SWEET SCIENCE: Sugar Industry Fights Myths

THE SWEET SCIENCE: Sugar Industry Fights Myths

In 2021 the sugar industry decided it had to do something about how the average consumer perceived real sugar. It needed to reposition the perception of sugar as being a substance derived from plants, grown on family farms where multiple generations work together to produce the safest, most sustainable product possible. In short, it needed to fight its way out of the corner of the media misconception that real sugar is an over-processed chemical product.

Sugar comes from sugar beets or sugarcane, and once it is harvested and extracted it is stored in warehouses until it is transported to a refinery where the raw sugar crystals are melted to remove any remaining impurities. This process produces the white sugar we most often see on store shelves. Remarkable is the fact that, while consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, only a third of them actually realize that sugar comes from plants.

In response to this phenomenon, the Sugar Association, the American Sugar Cane League and the American Sugar Refining company hosted a number of Farm-To-Table tours with health and diet social media influencers to help close the gap between the myths surrounding sugar and the crop’s actual origins and processes. One of the tours was held in the Red River Valley region of Minnesota with eight influencers including chefs, bloggers and online dietitians. They were treated to a first-hand look at how sugarcane is harvested. The idea of connecting these influential guests with the plants, the process and the people means they’re more likely to share what they learned with the public. One of the guests who’s son worked as a CNC machinist was amazed at how sugar beet lifters were designed and how “all the equipment works so efficiently together”. They went on to say that presenting this information to American high school students would be valuable in helping them understand what is involved in getting sugar-related foods to the table.

By presenting science and facts via social media, influencers are able to dispel myths quickly over a vast network and tackle the truth about what consumers consider to be “controversial” ingredients. The message that all foods have a place in a healthy diet removes the guilt and fear from eating. It also highlights the importance of adding science to one’s understanding of the food industry, such as realizing that sugar is completely extracted under one factory roof rather than at multiple locations and that the entire process is designed, monitored and controlled by scientists and engineers. Such information adds a layer of comfort and accountability that isn’t normally associated with refined sugar. The message is clear: consumers want more information about where their food is coming from. In the case of sugar refining, that means learning about farmers and farming by telling their stories and building that trust.

But what about all of those stubborn sugar myths? Is sugar addictive? Researchers say “no”, claiming that our brains “light up” when given glucose fuel but they don’t respond the same way as they do with controlled substances. Can sugar cause diabetes? Scientists say sugar is not thge culprit, but if sugar calories are consumed and not burned they may be stored as fat – a risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes. Are artificial sweeteners better than sugar? Saccharin and aspartame contain chemicals which are still being studied, so the best rule is “if it’s a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” However, if it was harvested, extracted and refined in a plant the facts all point to sugar as a natural ingredient of a healthy diet.

For more information on absorption and filtration technologies for the Sugar Refining Industry, please visit our sweeteners page for an array of high-quality Graver products.

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