What comes to mind when you overhear LEECH-ing in a nearby conversation? Probably the exploitation of resources. Personally, I picture myself in some janky foot spa in Southeast Asia crossing “leech foot bath” off my bucket list. Either way, you are probably not thinking about what is happening when refined sugar enters your body.

Raw sugarcane, the nutritious goldmine from which refined sugar is derived, is a whole food – meaning it contains every vitamin, mineral, nutrient and enzyme needed to break it down properly in the body. As you could probably guess, refined sugar is void of these (hence its absence from my article on nutritious sweeteners).


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Your body knows what it needs to break down the processed sugarcane. It draws from its own vitamin and mineral stores that have been built up from nutrient-dense foods, like soggy dining hall fruit salad, and that lumpy, calcium-rich cottage cheese that you raid your fridge for in the middle of the night out of lethal craving. Well, maybe that is just me. Consequently, refined sugar actually works against you.

You’re probably wondering how the sugarcane’s cornucopia of nutrients can be so thoroughly stripped to create refined sugar. As it turns out, the process is bittersweet:

Step 1: The sugarcane is pressed to release its juice.


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Step 2: Calcium hydroxide is added to the juice to settle any dirt or fiber from the uncleaned sugarcane. Take a moment to note that this is the same compound used in sewage treatment.

Step 3: The juice is heated until most of the water has evaporated, leaving a dark, thick syrup chockfull of nutrients. This thick syrup is then boiled until all of the enzymes and most of the nutrients are destroyed.

Step 4: Sucrose “seedling” crystals are added, causing a crystallization domino-effect.

Step 5: These crystals are reheated to dissolve their outer layers – which contain any remaining nutrients – to create another syrup. Calcium phosphate is then added, which captures these nutrients and floats to the top to be disposed of.

Step 6: The remaining syrup is made colorless via charcoal filters and then recrystallized. Fun Fact: Most factories use charcoal from dead animal bones.


Image Courtesy of The Guardian

These crystals are repeatedly heated and recrystallized until finally packaged for consumption. Life Tip: try sweetening your coffee with something else tomorrow morning.

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