Sunday, April 11, 2021


SUGARCANE (Saccharum officinarum) or sugar cane refer to several species and hybrids of tall perennial grasses in the genus Saccharum, tribe Andropogoneae, that are used for sugar production. The plants are two to six metres tall with stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sucrose, which accumulates in the stalk internodes. In other case, the food bogeyman these days is sugar and for good reason. But one company wants you to have your cake and eat it too. Recently, sugar manufacturer Central Sugar Refinery (CSR) introduced a new product called Better Brown Low G Sugar. They call it a new, improved version of brown sugar, with a low glycaemic index (GI). From the Press release, “By having a low GI, CSR’s latest product will be more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised. This leads to a lower and slower rise in blood glucose, thus helping consumers to sustain energy longer and curb hunger cravings. Low glycaemic is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. While the GI count of regular white sugar stands at 69 ± 5, Better Brown Low G Sugar carries a GI count of 55 or less and yet provides the same sweet taste, making it suitable for use in food and drinks preparation. This comes from a company who tells ti their consumers to Consume Sugar Responsibly on its packaging. Blog 'Anim Agriculture Technology' rewrite about the report on sweetness from sugarcane as reported by NST.

He can vouch for the product to have that same sweet taste, having used it to make perfectly delicious brownies. It retails at RM3.80 per kg, 30 sen extra than CSR’s standard brown sugar. At the product launch, reporters ask CSR’s CEO Hishammudin Hasan if a low GI sugar is just a pretext or a marketing tool to keep us hooked on the sweet stuff, when we really should wean ourselves off sugar as much as we can considering our current health situation. They wouldn’t use the word ‘hooked’ because that connotes a negative intent. They are sugar refiners and we are working with the National Diabetes Institute (NADI) to get Malaysians to cosume sugar responsibly. At the same time, we are always on the lookout for new technology to refine sugar that is a better quality and healthier for Malaysians. Not everything is about money. It has to balance with the community’s interest. There’s no point in always pushing sugar when people are suffering from diabetes because that will impact us in the long run. The technology to make Better Brown comes from a Singapore-based company called Nutrition Innovation. Founded by Monash University associate professor Dr David Kannar it offers sugar mills and refineries a way to make low GI sugar such as Better Brown that is a direct replacement to regular refined white sugar. The sugar they consume is made from sugar cane. This raw material is processed into sugar syrup, then filtered to produce clear and odourless crystals with a sweet taste called sucrose. When consumed, the sucrose molecule breaks down into glucose and fructose which are simple sugars that can be absorbed by the body

When glucose gets into the blood stream, blood sugar levels rise and causes the release of insulin from the pancreas. This tells the cells in our body to absorb the sugar, following which glucose levels will start to drop. The high peaks and low troughs of glucose levels do things to your body says Nutrition Innovation CEO Matthew Godfrey. If you have breakfast with a high GI product, you feel hungry quicker. You want more food cos you’ve crashed to the other side. It’s that cycle of peaks and troughs that leads to obesity and diabetes, and many diabetes associations around the world have recognised this. Low glycaemic foods slow energy release because glucose goes in much slower into the blood stream and you don’t get those peaks. Godfrey also mentions a study by Singapore’s Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC) in 2017 that looks at changes to blood glucose levels following food consumption in Asians and Caucasians. The Asian genome is pretty much more sensitive to glycaemic response to anybody else. The study tested groups of Malay, Chinese, Indians and Caucasians. When consuming carbohydrates such as sucrose, blood glucose goes up higher and crash lower, particularly for the Malay group. “So you start to understand why the Malay group is more exposed to diabetes than any other ethnic group. It shows the importance of gycaemic response in understanding what we consume everyday.

Like all other plants, sugarcane contains significant nutrients and antioxidants that are beneficial to the human body. But these get stripped away and discarded during the refining process. White sugar is nearly 100 per cent carbohydrate and brown sugar about 97 per cent, with no dietary fibre, protein or fat. But because brown sugar contains molasses from the sugar refining processing, it has some of the sugarcane antioxidants. No one really bothered about it before, and no one knew how much it was in there. The technology allows the antioxidants to be measured as the sugar is being produced. We enable refiners to leave in just the right amount of antioxidants to have a healthier product. The antioxidants slow down the break up of sucrose into glucose and fructose, slowing down the metabolism of sugar. The second effect is that in the intestines, it blocks glucose from being transported into the blood stream by targetting an enzyme called GLUT2. It’s the same mechanism as some diabetes drugs, so let’s take a few steps back and leave the antioxidants in sugarcane to have that similar effect. But given how prevalent diabetes is among Malaysians about 2.5 million Malaysians aged 18 and above have the disease controlling sugar intake has to be more than an individual effort. There’s the soda tax to be introduced in 2019, and Godfrey believes the food industry needs to step up as well.  Food companies often think they don’t have a choice in low glycaemic carbohydrates. They think it’s more expensive, which was the case until CSR brought Better Brown to the market. Now they can make the switch. He cites a study which they have done that shows having antioxidants in sugar leads to a 20 per cent reduction of glucose in the blood stream. While the product is recommended as a one-to-one replacement to white sugar, the molasses makes it richer and sweeter so less sugar is needed to achieve the same taste.

Meanwhile, over a year ago he discovered a local supermarket selling Milo from Australia and I was baffled, particularly over the price tag. A recent check on the Jaya Grocer website shows a 1.1kg can selling for RM54.90, while a 1kg pack of Malaysian Milo at Tesco retails at RM14.99.  During a trip to Australia he later bought a can of Milo and the drink tasted great. It’s more chocolate-y and not as sweet but certainly not enough to make me want to pay almost three times as much for it compared to the local version.  Godfrey tells me that Australian Milo is certified as low glycaemic, allowing Nestle there to market the product as healthy and charge a bit more for it. That’s not his company’s doing but that is an example of how a processed food can contribute in controlling sugar consumption.  Their global goal is for people to consume less sugar and give them better choices.  They just showcased a new technology that can add protein and fibre to sugar. More than just taste, sugar is a preservative and a filler. There are many foods in the supermarket that will disappear if you take sugar out. He also concerned that in the rush to take sugar out of their diet, some people end up making less healthy choices such as consuming artificial sugar that impairs their digestive health.  People have always been attracted to sweet foods but nowadays we want to be able to consume sweet things without the health impact, or at least minimise it. It’s giving people the choice to have their cake and eat it too. For hundreds of years people in this region have been consuming raw, evaporated sugar cane syrup as sugar, which is delicious and low glycaemic. But it’s not very food safe or stable for transport, and very expensive. So refined sugar is created. Like every carbohydrate, the more you refine it, the worst it gets nutritionally. Ten years ago, people probably don’t know the nutritional difference between brown rice and white rice. Now we know that less refined means more complex carbohydrate, it’s harder to digest and better for your body. Sugar is the last great carbohydrate to go that way. Source: NST.... Thanks.

M Anim,
September 2020.

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