I can't recollect if my introduction with sugarcane pre-teen was via juice or chewed the direct stalk. I definitely remember being introduced to it at my Nani's (maternal grandmother) home in Uttar Pradesh as a child when we visited during the winters post-Diwali for chhath puja - an eco-friendly spiritual prayer offered to the Sun for bestowing us with life. My grandma helmed the ceremony in the small town my maternal family lived at the time, and sugarcane stalks were an integral part of carrying out the tradition consumed by the family post morning prayers.
I did not drink sugar juice regularly for a long time; my tryst with sugarcane was just once a year at my grandma's during my teens. I suffered from Jaundice when I was 12 or 13, and during that time, my mom gave me sugarcane juice every day, first thing in the morning, until I recovered. I think that really put me off sugarcane juice for a long time until one day early last year (before the pandemic hit our country and went into a lockdown) on my way back from the physiotherapist clinic, I saw this sugarcane juice waala, and before I knew it, I was sipping on the drink.
Sugarcane juice comes with a host of minerals, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, magnesium, zinc, thiamin, several amino acids, and riboflavin.
A 240 ml glass of juice consists of 180 calories, 30g sugar, and high fibre content. Drinking a glass of sugarcane juice has terrific health benefits. It is packed with vital nutrients that a human body requires. It strengthens the bones, boosts the immune system, relieves stress and enhances digestion because of antioxidants compounds like flavonoids and polyphenols.
Sugarcane is the main crop used for sugar production - 70% of the sugar is produced from sugarcane. The remaining 30% uses the sugar beet yield. However, this isn't the case for the sugarcane grown in India, which happens to be the second-largest producer of sugarcane after Brazil.
Many sugarcane grown in India is first used to make jaggery, followed by khandsari - a type of unrefined brown sugar, and then sugar which is processed using chemicals and sulphur.
The remaining fibrous mass is used as fuel or to make paper.
Our country is one of the world's largest sugarcane producers, after Brazil, which is why almost no companies offer packaged commercial sugarcane juice. It is priced as low as Rs. 10 or as high as Rs. 40, but it's available through the country and not limited to one specific region. The top 5 sugarcane producing states are Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Benefits of Sugarcane juice
Indian summers are sweltering (from late March until the monsoons arrive). They drain you, dehydrate you, annoy you and make sure you sweaty 24x7 - unless an air conditioner is your saving grace. Indulging in fresh sugarcane juice once a week has fantastic benefits. It does the trick to quench one's thirst, survive the summer, and the host of feelings summer brings.
Sugarcane has been cultivated in India and other parts of Southeast Asia for over millennia. It has been used as a standard cure for various ailments in the Ayurvedic and Unani medicine system. Natural sugarcane and its direct derivatives are used for the treatment of illnesses such as:
- Bleeding (haemorrhage)
- Jaundice that turns the skin and eyes yellow
Health Benefits of sugarcane juice
As per Ayurveda in India, sugarcane juice strengthens the human liver and is a traditional jaundice remedy. The antioxidants in sugarcane juice protect the liver against any kind of infection and maintain bilirubin levels. It replenishes the body quickly with lost proteins and nutrients required to recover from any sort of disease.
Good for Digestion
Drinking sugarcane juice helps facilitates an excellent digestive system as per ayurvedic medicine. The potassium present aids the gastric system by preventing stomach infections and treating constipation.
The balanced natural supply of sucrose in sugarcane gives the body the right amount of energy that helps kick-start the day. It balances the release of glucose in the body to regain lost sugar levels that help maintain healthy glucose levels.
Diuretic in Nature
The diuretic property of sugarcane juice makes it an essential ingredient that helps fight and survive any infection by making the body alkaline. Consuming sugarcane juice also helps prevent urinary tract infection, especially when one experiences a burning sensation while urinating. It also helps to reduce and to prevent kidney stones.
Fights Bad Breath & Cavities
The presence of calcium and phosphorus in Sugarcane juice helps strengthen the tooth enamel and protects it against tooth decay. It also supports fighting foul breath that occurs due to insufficient nutrients in the body.
Increased metabolism and Reduced Morning Sickness (during pregnancy)
Although sugar is often associated with obesity, consuming some sugarcane boosts metabolism (enhanced weight loss) and minimal weight gain in pregnant women. Studies have found that drinking the juice with ginger help decrease the occurrence of morning sickness and strengthens the immune system.
Sugarcane juice is also known to fight acne, diminish blemishes, and delay ageing by keeping the skin soft and supple. The Alpha hydroxy acids in the form of glycolic acid present in the juice have significant benefits for skin health, keeping the skin glowing and radiant.
Effects on Diabetes
Diabetic patients are encouraged to choose direct sugarcane derivatives such as molasses, also known as jaggery, over-refined sugars to help maintain a low glycemic index. Various studies have shown that sugarcane molasses concentrate has been found to lower glucose and inhibit insulin production.
However, diabetics should also check with doctors or nutritionists before consuming the juice. It has a good amount of sugar and may not be the best choice of drink for patients.
Sugarcane juice is loaded with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium, which plays an integral part in strengthening the bones. Thus, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Consider consuming the juice during summers to maintain bone strength that will support old age.
Sugarcane risks & side effects
As sugar production has increased globally, scientists have warned that the overconsumption of this substance and refined sugars may lead to several health issues.
Please note the following before consuming sugarcane or any sugar derivative regularly.
Research Studies suggest that high-sugar diets lead to a greater risk of death due to heart disease. As per a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who consumed 20% of their calories from sugar were 38% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than their peers who consumed 8% calories from sugar.
Increased blood pressure
A diet high in sugars has also been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and related issues like diabetes, high cholesterol levels, weight gain, and more. Sugarcane does have more nutrients than refined sugar; however, overconsumption can cause unwanted side effects.
How to consume sugarcane juice?
The tastiest and the best way to consume sugarcane juice is by adding a few drops of lime juice, one-third of tender coconut water and the remaining two-thirds with sugarcane juice. Add a dash of ginger juice and some black salt.
It generates a feeling of wellness and freshness when consumed once a week. Remember, the key is to have it in moderation and not every day.
Although it is an unrefined drink, it is likely not recommended for diabetics because of the amount of sugar. It does serve up a healthy dose of antioxidants but is exceptionally high in sugar. Diabetics can choose unsweetened beverages such as whole fruits, unsweetened coffee or tea as these drinks quench the thirst without spiking the blood sugar levels.
For the rest of the folks, please drink sugarcane juice in moderation. Try to consume the juice in the way mentioned above. As long as one lives a healthy lifestyle, enjoying nature's offerings from time to time will only enhance the quality of life. Sugarcane juice comes with amazing benefits and electrolytes that help one maintain good health. Step out and grab a sugarcane drink from a local vendor available in the busy streets of your city - of course, when the lockdown is over.
Authored by: Padmaja Rai
About the Author: Padmaja is a healthcare consultant and avid fitness enthusiast. She holds a masters' in bio-innovation and rare diseases from University of Pennsylvania. She is a firm believer in ancient Indian holistic healing.