I recently traveled to Rajasthan. It was the day after Diwali and all houses in the villages and city, alike, had sugarcane sticks lined outside their homes. The fields along the highway had sugarcane crop stacked in bundles ready to be carried to the market. The air all around was singing sweetness and festivity.
It was all beautiful. But something tickled my mind. Every Diwali, my grandmother, too, includes sugarcane in the puja offerings to Goddess Lakshmi, The Goddess of wealth, happiness and prosperity. It is her favorite food; she had once told me.
My entire fascination as a child was not around the puja rituals. It was the post puja ritual that I waited for. Sitting with everyone in the verandah, holding the sugarcane stick in hand, peeling it with our teeth, biting into it and chewing it, allowing the juices to flow inside the mouth (and outside too), is a joy unmatched.
What Troubled me was that all houses we saw had sugarcane lined outside. This means that whatever its fate, it was not going to be used by the family.
All that glitters is not gold and all things sweet are not bad (or good). Sugar has been demonized to an extent where the majority of the population today has their coffee black and mithais sugar-free. Yet, statistics show an exponential increase in our “sugar intake”. Why? Because of the “added sugar” in all the packaged and processed foods and beverages we consume. It is this “added sugar” that you should stay away from.
Sugar doesn’t make you fat. Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. Sugar is not what you should avoid. It is the type and source of sugar that you need to check.
Sugarcane is all things good that your body needs. Chewing on sugarcane gives you fibre and an abundance of vitamins and minerals. Freshly squeezed sugarcane juice with ginger, mint and lime (as you like!) is the best (and only, if you ask me) Post Diwali Detox drink for both – your body and brain. It is a boon to strengthen your liver after all the increased alcohol and late nights. It makes for an excellent recovery drink and works amazingly for adolescents, adults and elderly.
Its versatility is such that – make it into sugar, mishri or jaggery – the power of sugarcane to nourish the body, mind and soul only increases.
The sugar that we all use at home is natural cane sugar. This does no harm to the body. Contrary to the popular belief, it is helpful and needed for a lot of reasons. Sugar provides minerals and B vitamins that make the digestive system stronger. It is the best food that naturally regulates body temperature and blood flow. Mishri or sugar with saunf (fennel) is a great digestive agent. The World Health Organisation says we can have 6 to 12 teaspoons of sugar a day. If you include sugar in your diet based on the guideline in the table above, you will still be consuming 4-5 tps a day – which is well within limit.
Jaggery is rich in iron and essential fatty acids along with other nutrients. It aids digestion and keeps constipation at bay, improves immunity and reduces risk of seasonal allergies. Jaggery naturally keeps the body warm and is, therefore, the preferred source of sweetness in winters. It is therapeutic in soothing throat irritation and dry cough due to change in season.
Diwali to Sankranti is the period of sugarcane harvest and festivity around it. India, though known for its diversity in culture is united in celebration around sugarcane across all its states. Fasting and feasting during Chhat Puja, dancing around “loh” or fire during Lohri or the celebration of Pongal – all these festivals highlight the importance and divinity of sugarcane and pure sugar in our lives. This new year let us unite again and acknowledge this goodness. Accept it back in our lives with gratitude and allow it to make our lives sweeter, the right way, the right kind.
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